It’s cold outside!

By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.

By the time you are reading this, at the end of the third week of January, hopefully the Arctic blast of frigid cold has passed.  On the day I’m writing this, the predictions are of sub-freezing weather for several days, with warming up on Wednesday. While we expect seriously cold weather, with temperatures in the single digits, the expectation is that it will last only a day or two and not be anything like the freeze we had a few years back.

Given that it’s still early winter, I’ve run across a few thoughts for additional cold weather and some summer ideas.

If you haven’t had your heating system winterized, it would be a good idea to call your local HVAC people and have them check your filters and register to ensure that it’s in working condition for the rest of the winter.

Covering outdoor water faucets helps avoid water freezing in the outdoor pipes.

Having a few portable space heaters helps, when the temperature is below freezing, to keep the outdoor pipes from freezing. I put one facing our outdoor bathroom when the pipes leading to our toilet froze. It helped warm the pipe and defrost it.

Opening all the cabinet doors and keeping the faucets dripping, so that the water is moving, also helps prevent the pipes from freezing.

It’s important to know where the outdoor house water shutoff is located. In the event of a burst pipe, you can go outside and shut off the water.

Having a water key for the city sewer system is also a good idea. They cost a few dollars and are available at your local hardware store.

Keeping your car’s gas tank full is a good idea. Also, keeping a warm coat, hat and gloves, along with sturdy shoes, in the car is good preventative care.

If you have an upstairs that doesn’t get used much, it’s a good idea to check the thermostats, that they are set to keep that area reasonably warm.

It helps to stock up on some groceries, but not for months. We don’t live in Montana!

In the event of a blackout or brownout, having battery-operated lanterns can be lifesaving. I tend to mostly use rechargeable lanterns and I keep them charged, because if the electricity goes out and they aren’t charged, they’re useless. Battery-operated lanterns are much safer than candles.

If you have a fireplace, having Duraflame logs and real wood can help keep warm. For natural gas fireplaces, you’re all set. Remember to get your chimney checked regularly for cracks and soot buildup.

Now is also a good time to think about setting up routine HVAC maintenance, once each spring and fall. I have our guy come out when we change the clocks twice annually, to replace the air filters and do routine maintenance. I don’t want the air conditioner to fail in July.

Speaking of which, recent reports have indicated that this past year was the warmest on record. The meteorologists continued to predict that this past summer will have been the coolest we will experience for the next few years.

Think about that — it’s a lovely way of saying that this summer is expected to be hotter than last summer. Traditionally, we get about 20 days of 100-plus degrees. The last two summers, we had over 43 of those days. It really has been hotter, longer. Not the worst we’ve ever seen, but we’re all a bit older now and the heat takes its toll.

Please start thinking about preparing for this summer and stay healthy.

Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas. He can be reached at

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