Reminding Mainers how to survive winter is sort of like reminding a fish to swim or a snowflake to fall to Earth, but that’s just what members of the Legislature’s Energy Committee held a press conference for on Monday.
I am one among the masses who daily find themselves locked in conversations about the weather, thinking all along that there must be something better to talk about. We all made the choice to live here and it shouldn’t surprise us that the cold makes life difficult and even dangerous. Right?
However, as a reporter for the past 15 years, I can tell you that there are too many people who don’t get the message. I’ve written more stories than I can count about improperly installed wood stoves burning houses down, carbon monoxide poisoning families and elderly shut-ins suffering from hypothermia. And don’t get me started about all the people who drive too fast when the roads are slippery.
Here are a few tips from the Energy Committee, some of which hadn’t occurred to me despite a lifetime of enduring Maine winters.
– Keep the fuel tank in your car topped off. You never know when you’ll be stranded and the gas in your tank will become your lifeline. If you are stranded, stay in the car but don’t run it for too long in one stretch. Carbon monoxide can build up quickly inside a stationary vehicle. I sort of knew that.
– Hypothermia can set in at higher temperatures than most people believe, especially for infants and the elderly. The temptation to save a few dollars by turning down thermostats at night is strong, but an in-home temperature of just 60 degrees can be dangerous. An average of 20 Mainers die from hypothermia each year, including three or four who perish in their homes. I didn’t know that.
– The best money spent on heating your home is the money spent on blocking the cold. Weatherization investments equal to a tank of oil or two you can drastically improve your situation, and there are several programs waiting to help. Government-subsidized Efficiency Maine (www.EfficiencyMaine.org) will do $600 worth of air sealing for $200 and also provides fast-tracked loans of up to $15,000 with 10-year payback terms. There are also PACE loans and HUD PowerSaver Loans. If your needs are more immediate — such as your heating fuel, including wood, is about to run out — two-thirds of the state’s credit unions offer low- or no-interest loans for the purpose of purchasing fuel. I definitely didn’t know that.
Along with their winter survival tips, the lawmakers’ overall message was to look out for one another, which I think bears repeating, especially since any day now we’ll be back in a deep freeze. Check on your neighbors when the power goes out. Throw a little sand on their driveway. Make sure they know they can dial 211 if the heat goes out and they need emergency shelter. If they look like they’re struggling, offer to help and don’t take no for an answer.