How to Survive Philly’s Epic Winter Freeze

by Claire Sasko | January 3, 2018 11:35 am

code blue, cold, winter

Photo via Marccophoto/[1]

You, like most of Philly right now, are probably dreaming of warmer days (or, at this point, just temperatures above freezing).

Unfortunately, we’re in for more cold and snow later this week. To help get you through, we’ve compiled a guide to surviving the below-freezing stretch in Philly, the region’s longest since 2004, per[2].

How can I prevent my pipes from freezing?

Apparently the city needs to learn a thing or two about frozen pipes – the Philadelphia Water Department[3] and local plumbers[4] have reportedly been inundated with calls during the deep freeze.

First things first. When the water in your pipe gets too cold and freezes, it can expand and cause your pipes to burst, leading to a mess like this:

Frozen pipe burst. Basement flooded. #fml[5][6]

— Debbie Morgan (@MrsGammaLabs) February 16, 2016[7]

No one wants gallons of icy water gushing through their home. To prevent burst pipes, the Red Cross[8] offers the following tips:

What if my pipes do freeze? How can I tell they’re frozen, and if they are, how should I thaw them?

If you turn on your faucet and only a trickle of water drips out, you may have a frozen pipe. It’s important to know that the Philadelphia Water Department can’t fix frozen pipes, as it has recently pointed out. You’ll want to call a plumber ASAP.

Don’t spend precious time calling our emergency # only to find PWD crews can’t thaw your plumbing! Simple tip to avoid #frozenpipes[9]/burst plumbing (& that dreaded plumber call): let a basement sink drip overnight. More tips:[10][11]

— Philadelphia Water (@PhillyH2O) December 27, 2017[12]

The Red Cross has some tips for what to do when you suspect your pipes have frozen:

How (and when) do I put ice melt on my sidewalk?

How to use ice melt safely.[13]

— Valley Green Inc. (@ValleyGreenUSA) December 28, 2017[14]

If you’re using ice melt or rock salt, be sure to apply it ASAP – the earlier, the better. Consumer Reports[15] offers a small guide to applying the product. The organization recommends removing any existing snow before an impending storm (via a shovel or snowblower), then applying a thin, even layer of ice melt to the sidewalk.

If you’re using a wheeled or handheld ice melt spreader, rinse the spreader between uses. Otherwise sprinkle the product by using a cup of by hand – as long as you’re wearing gloves, as the product can be toxic. Don’t use too much of it – ice melt (or magnesium chloride, a common ingredient) can damage concrete. Be sure to pay attention to the recommended application amount including on the packaging.

Ice melt poses a risk to plants, pets and family members. If your child swallows ice melt, call the American Association of Poison Control Centers[16] at 800-222-1222. Watch your pets to ensure they don’t ingest the product – even small amounts of 100 percent sodium chloride (salt) can be lethal to dogs.

Consider wiping your pets paws after walks in the winter. If you think your pet has ingested ice met, contact your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline[17] at 800-213-6680.

How can I keep myself warm when I’m outside?

First, we recommend not going outside. But if you have to, we suggest wearing layers[18]. As well as hats, gloves and scarves – and warm socks. Especially warm socks. If you’re going in the snow, try to wear something water resistant.

If you take public transportation, be sure to check that services are running smoothly before leaving your home. That way, you shorten the amount of time you have to wait outside the cold.

Get familiar with symptoms of frostbite, which include cold skin and a prickling feeling followed by numbness and red, white, blueish-white or grayish-yellow skin, as well as hard or waxy-looking skin, blistering and muscle stiffness. Seek medical attention if you’re concerned you or someone else has developed frostbite.

How can I keep my neighbors and others safe?

In dangerous temperatures, the city declares a Code Blue emergency status[19], which pertains to those experiencing homelessness. If you’re worried about someone you see on the street, call the city’s homeless outreach hotline at 215-232-1984.

The Philadelphia Network of Care offers lists of emergency shelters[20] and street outreach programs[21] in Philly.

If you’re worried about your neighbor, reach out and check in. Consider contacting the Department of Public Health at 215-686-5200.

Can I leave a space heater plugged in overnight?

No. You shouldn’t leaving space heaters — a common cause of fires — unattended at all. The Philadelphia Fire Department advises residents to keep heaters away from furniture and combustibles.

If you are using a space heater, always plug it directly into the wall – never into an extension cord or power strip. Power cords aren’t designed to handle the high current flow needed for space heaters.

According to @NFPA[22], space heaters cause of 79% of all fatal home heating fires. DO NOT plug a space heater into a power strip or extension cord. They are not designed to handle the high current flow of a space heater and can overheat and catch fire. #FireSafety[23] #staysafe[24][25]

— KHW Mutual (@KHWMutual) December 1, 2017[26]

What do I do if I lose access to heat or hot water?

If you find yourself in this situation, try to get somewhere warm – and get your heat fixed – as soon as possible. In the meantime, close all windows, curtains (unless the sun is shining directly through the window) and doors to rooms you aren’t using. (And yes, some people swear by[27] using saran wrap to insulate windows.)

City law mandates[28] that landlords must provide tenants with a central heating system or an approved heating system controlled by the tenant. If your landlord controls your heating, the house must be kept at 68 degrees Fahrenheit from October through April. Tenants also have the right to access running water and hot water.

If your landlord isn’t responding to your requests, considering calling 311 and reporting your complaint to the city. Someone from the Department of Licenses and Inspections should visit and inspect the property.

If you’re worried that your rights as a tenant are being violated, contact the city’s Fair Housing Commission[29] at 215-686-4670.

How can I keep my pets safe?

As mentioned earlier, be sure to keep your pets away from ice melt and rock salt this winter.

And most important, keep them warm. Pennsylvania’s recently passed Libre’s Law mandates that dogs can be tethered outside for no more than 30 minutes in temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit – or owners face potential fines or jail time.

For cold weather pet safety tips, visit American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals[30]. If you’re worried about someone else’s pet, report your suspicions to Philly police or the PSPCA[31].

It's 16 degrees in Philly. Pet owners could face hefty fines if their animals are left out in the cold. Please bring your pets indoors.[32]

— Elayne (laynie) (@laynier) December 28, 2017[33]

How can I keep my car safe?

First things first: Check your fluid levels. Be sure you have enough coolant (and the correct antifreeze/water mixture) to ensure fluid doesn’t freeze in your radiator. (Your vehicle owner’s manual should including information on the best mixture.)

Also be sure that your wiper fluid is freeze-resistant in order to keep your view clear – and consider switching to a thinner oil in the winter, especially during stretches of below-freezing temperatures. Don’t use hot water to defrost your screen, as the sudden change in temperature could cause it to crack.

Be sure to check your tire pressure – low air pressure and worn tires can be dangerous on wet and slick roads. Your owner’s manual should contain your car’s recommended PSI.

Battery capacity is reduced by the cold. The Department of Motor Vehicles recommends checking your battery cables for cracks and breaks. The organization’s website includes a handy guide[34] to inspecting and replacing your car battery.

  1. Marccophoto/
  2. per
  3. Philadelphia Water Department:
  4. local plumbers:
  5. #fml:
  7. February 16, 2016:
  8. Red Cross:
  9. #frozenpipes:
  12. December 27, 2017:
  14. December 28, 2017:
  15. Consumer Reports:
  16. American Association of Poison Control Centers:
  17. Pet Poison Helpline:
  18. layers:
  19. emergency status:
  20. emergency shelters:
  21. street outreach programs:
  22. @NFPA:
  23. #FireSafety:
  24. #staysafe:
  26. December 1, 2017:
  27. swear by:
  28. mandates:
  29. Fair Housing Commission:
  30. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:
  31. PSPCA:
  33. December 28, 2017:
  34. a handy guide:

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