December, 2016
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Brace Yourself for Winter Weather

CAROL DIKELSKY



According to the 2017 Farmers’ Almanac, the winter that’s lying in wait, just weeks away from hitting the United States and Canada, is expected to be pretty brutal. Although last year’s strong El Nino pattern gave many parts of the country a break from the roughest of winter weather, this year it looks like most regions will not be getting such a reprieve (farmersalmanac.com/weather-out- look/2017-winter-forecast/).

Even if the Almanac’s ominous forecast turns out to be wrong, it’s still going to be winter! So, depending on where you live, it’s time to pull out your boots, jackets, gloves and thermal layers and make sure your shovels and snow blowers are in shape to get you through another winter workout.

Of course, home inspectors always need to be prepared to handle whatever Mother Nature brings while they are out in the (sometimes freezing) field. To help you put your winter goggles back on, we’ve collected the following “cold weather tips” from past issues of the Reporter. 

PUT SAFETY FIRST OUT IN THE FIELD
The following tips have been reprinted or adapted from “Playing It Safe in the Cold,” by Sandy Bourseau, published in December 2011 (www.ashireporter.org/homeinspection/ articles/playing-it-safe-in-the-cold/2229).

Up on the rooftop: When winter storms cover roofs with snow, it’s obvious they cannot be inspected, much less walked on. Equally dangerous, but less obvious, is a roof slick from frost or from rain. When these conditions are present, inspectors should consider staying on the roof and document the conditions in their reports. Given the widely documented risks of getting on a roof in any weather, some inspectors inspect them from the ground with binoculars, with the help of a drone or from a ladder, being sure to document their methods in their reports.

Getting up there: In winter, inspecting from a ladder presents its own hazards. Cold weather can create uneven surfaces due to an accumulation of ice and snow on the ground. Uneven ground is one of the worst places you can place a ladder because it creates the potential of the ladder tipping over when you’re climbing it. Another reason you do not want to place your ladder on top of snow or ice is the lack of friction between the ladder and the ground. Ice is slippery.

Ladder stability in wet or slippery conditions is a key consideration and can be greatly improved by a number of factors such as making an informed initial choice of ladder, by ongoing maintenance and inspection of ladder feet and through the use of stabilizers. Replacement feet are available in rubber, and a wide range of safety feet, ladder stoppers and ground spikes can provide additional support and help to secure the base.

In general, inspectors know that when a ladder is set up for use, it must be placed on firm, level ground and without any type of slippery condition present at either the base or top support points. And they know to wear clean, slip-resistant shoes.

Every day, home inspectors make decisions about their personal health and safety. Whether or not to climb that ladder or get on that roof are among the most important. Yet, how easy it is to overlook a few wet leaves. Wet leaves are a threat whether on the roof, on shoes or the ground.

Safe on the ground? Even solid ground presents its own perils when it’s wet or cold outside. Slips and falls often occur during entry or exit from vehicles—a reminder to be particularly careful and hold on to the vehicle for support. 

The likelihood of taking a fall on a sidewalk or driveway increases proportionally with the amount of freezing rain and ice. Joseph Chen, MD, medical director of the Iowa Spine Research and Rehabilitation Center at UI Hospitals and Clinics, suggested, “Take shorter steps and try to plant your whole foot gently down instead of using the typical heel strike that we use when we’re walking or running.” 

Dr. Ronald Grelsamer of New York City’s Mount Sinai Medical Center said, “Balance is key to walking on snow- and ice-covered walks and roads.” He offered the following suggestions:

• Move your feet slightly apart as you walk and bend your knees for better control.

• If the terrain is steep, turn sideways, bend your knees and then walk. Do not cross one foot over the other because that will push you off balance.

• Protect your dominant arm (right if you’re right-handed, left if you are left-handed). Since falls usually occur without warning, you have no time to plan. Make a habit of holding your coat lapel or carrying some- thing in your dominant hand while walking. This leaves the other hand free if you respond instinctively to break your fall. If injury does occur, you at least have your dominant side intact during recovery.

• If you feel yourself falling, the best thing you can do is relax and let yourself roll into the fall. Your instinct is to brace your body, but that could mean a more severe injury.

Biting cold replaces suffocating heat: Although there may be a greater danger of slipping and falling in winter, that’s a year-round hazard for home inspectors. Other hazards are seasonal. While, for now, the danger of having heat exhaustion or heat stroke is past, hypothermia and frostbite become concerns instead. 

Hypothermia: Hypothermia occurs most commonly at very cold environmental temperatures, but it can occur at more mild, cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or submersion in cold water.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when the body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced, the result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. is makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.

People who remain outdoors for long periods are in danger of experiencing hypothermia. For home inspectors, unheated crawl spaces, attics and even homes add to the time spent in the cold weather.

Warning signs include shivering or exhaustion, confusion or fumbling hands, memory loss or slurred speech and drowsiness. If you suspect that you or someone with you is experiencing hypothermia, the CDC suggests finding out the person’s temperature. If it is below 95°, the situation is an emergency—get medical attention immediately. If medical care is delayed or not available, begin warming the person with potential hypothermia and continue to seek emergency care.


Frostbite: Although not life-threatening, frostbite can permanently damage the body and severe cases can lead to amputation. It is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes.

At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin—frostbite may be beginning. Any of these signs may indicate frostbite: a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, or numbness. A person with frostbite is often unaware of it until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

If you detect symptoms of frostbite in yourself or others, seek medical care. Because frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia, as described previously. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.

If there is frostbite, but no sign of hypothermia and immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:

  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes—this increases the damage.
  • Immerse the affected area in warm—not hot—water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body). Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
  • Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp or the heat of a stove, replace or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned. These procedures are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and a health care provider should evaluate frostbite.

Wind chill: Even when temperatures are only cool, the wind chill effect can increase the likelihood of problems. As the speed of the wind increases, it carries more heat away from the body. When there are high winds, serious weather-related health problems are more likely. To use a wind chill calculator, visit the National Weather Service website (www.nws.noaa.gov/om/ winter/windchill.shtml).

Prepare for winter: It’s a good idea to take a first aid and emergency resuscitation (CPR) course to prepare for cold-weather health problems. Knowing what to do is an important part of protecting your health and the health of others.

Also, doing something as simple as dressing accordingly can reduce the potential for illness and injuries. For instance, wear the following (or store these items in your vehicle):

  • a hat
  • a knit mask to cover face and mouth
  • sleeves that are snug at the wrist
  • when possible, mittens (they are warmer than gloves)
  • water-resistant coat and shoes
  • several layers of loose-fitting clothing

Be sure your outer layer of clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind-resistant, to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton. Stay dry—wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm. Also, avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling your car or using a snow blower; these materials can greatly increase heat loss from the body when they come in contact with the skin.

Do not ignore shivering—it’s an important first sign that your body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return to your vehicle or some heated environment. 

Awareness is the greatest tool for staying safe and well as a home inspector. ere’s no way to know how many accidents and illnesses are prevented by being aware of the hazards inspectors face, but don’t take any chances. Take every step with care and stay safe.

BRUSH UP ON COLD WEATHER– SPECIFIC SIGNS DURING INSPECTIONS
Several authors of articles published in the Reporter have described issues and situations that are more likely to be observed in cold or winter weather. Here are a few topics and links to the associated articles.

Air-transported moisture that can cause wall damage in cold climates: “Air-Transported Moisture: A Stealthy Enemy” by Alan Carson, August 2015 (www.ash- ireporter.org/HomeInspection/Articles/ Air-Transported-Moisture-A-Stealthy- Enemy/14716)

Water damage resulting from ventilation or plumbing issues: “ The Unseen Drip: An Article from the Moisture Mysteries Series” by Roger Hankey, April 2015 (www.ashire- porter.org/HomeInspection/Articles/ e- Unseen-Drip/14645?print=true)

Window condensation: “Fogged Up? Clearing the Air about Window Condensation” by Tom Feiza, February 2012 (www. ashireporter.org/HomeInspection/Articles/ Fogged-Up-Clearing-the-Air-About- Window-Condensation/2269)

Wet attic spaces: “ The Wet Attic in Winter: The First of Several Moisture Mysteries in Minnesota, Solved by ASHI Member Roger Hankey,” June 2009 (www. ashireporter.org/HomeInspection/Articles/ Moisture-Mysteries/1695)

Waterproofed shingle underlayments: “Inspecting Today’s Predominant Residential Installed Roo ng Material: Asphalt Composition Shingles” by John Cranor, May 2002 (www.ashireporter.org/ HomeInspection/Articles/Inspecting- Today-s-Predominant-Residential-In- stalled-Roo ng-Material-Asphalt- Composition-Shingles/845)
 

  • Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna as a signal to rescuers.
  • Move anything you need from the trunk into the passenger area.
  • Wrap your entire body, including your head, in extra clothing, blankets or newspapers.
  • Stay awake. You will be less vulnerable to cold-related health problems.
  • Run the motor (and heater) for about 10 minutes per hour, opening one window slightly to let in air. Make sure that snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe—this will reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • As you sit, keep moving your arms and legs to improve your circulation and stay warmer.
  • Do not eat unmelted snow because it will lower your body temperature.
  • In all seasons of the year, be sure that someone other than you knows the time the inspection was scheduled, where it is and when you are expected to check in.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.nws.noaa.gov/om/winter/windchill.shtml