Van Beek: Warming up to winter |

Van Beek: Warming up to winter

This time of year, I am reminded of how lucky we are to live here, and I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to be your sheriff for another four years. 

To protect and serve covers multiple dimensions and keeping our friends and neighbors safe in their homes is paramount and it involves more than just crime prevention. Today, I want to address an increasing concern across the valley: staying alive as we face extreme weather conditions with nearly double energy costs. How to stay warm safely while trying to keep within tight budgets is challenging.

When indoors begins feeling a lot like the outdoors, we must take added precautions. Some of the suggestions listed are common sense, some are designed for more extreme conditions, including being stuck in a rural area without electricity or other heat sources.   

Given our general mountain expertise, many of us can venture into camping or mountain survival mode with existing equipment. Others must adapt to whatever they have on hand. Our primary concern is your safety. 

As we create makeshift heating sources, some can become fire hazards or create unhealthy air quality levels in our homes, which could potentially lead to death. This can stress people who may begin to think that their decision is whether to die from hypothermia or toxic inhalation. I’d like to offer some third options.

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How do we “weather the storm” of an emergency?  Here are some basic strategies: 

  • Add thick thermal curtains and open them to allow sunshine warmth during the day
  • Tape drafty windows with self-adhesive foam strips, doing the same around doors and attic crawl spaces
  • Turn on overhead fans to blow the heat downward
  • Use flexible fillers on drafty floorboards, being careful not to seal up necessary ventilation
  • Add rugs to help insulate floors
  • If using a radiator, place a reflective panel (even aluminum foil) behind it to direct heat toward the room
  • Move large pieces of furniture away from heater vents to keep from blocking airflow into the room 
  • Adhere a small piece of wool fabric over doggie doors and mail slots to keep out drafts
  • Close doors to unused rooms or corridors. However, unused rooms need just enough heat to avoid pipes bursting. Locate the shut-off valve in case of an emergency.
  • An old-fashioned water bottle will do wonders for keeping your feet warm in bed
  • Make sure your furnace is operating efficiently by keeping the filter clean
  • If there is a window that is hidden or not used, like a basement window, you can cover it with simply bubble wrap for further insulation
  • When done cooking, leave the oven door open as it cools, so the heat can warm the room but don’t use it as a home heating source because a gas oven can create dangerous carbon monoxide levels, and an electric oven’s continual heating element can become so hot that it can melt the plastic knobs, or become flammable to nearby items.
  • Keep the bathroom door open during showers so the heat and humidity can steam through the home, warming it up and reducing winter dryness
  • Place a shelf strategically above the radiator (by several feet) to help direct the heat toward the room and away from under the window curtain.
  • Spray foam insulation in wall gaps
  • When using woodburning stoves or fireplaces, install a carbon monoxide monitor. This will alert you to dangerous fumes and reduce your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • When using portable heaters, remember that they may be tipped over by a curious pet or child, thus exposing the heating element to flammable surroundings. Some consider oil-filled radiant heaters to be safer and more energy efficient than traditional fan heaters because of the constant temperature and insulated heating element. However, remember that all heaters should be kept at least 3 feet away from anything flammable, like curtains or bedding.
  • If your electricity is out, then act as if you are camping. You can set up a tent indoors to create a small bubble of space to help retain body heat while sleeping. Bring in your sleeping bag and pad to keep your sleeping space small and warmer.

Sometimes, heating the human rather than the entire house can help keep costs down and things livable, especially if you work from home. 

  • Just as in skiing, wear clothing that is lightweight. Merino wool or silk will keep you the warmest. You can also bundle up in the new synthetic fluffy PJs, sweaters, and sports pants but take care not to get too sweaty because those fabrics don’t breathe and the dampness will cause a chill, defeating its purpose. The idea is to keep warm while not impeding movement.
  • An electric blanket across the legs or over the shoulders will keep you toasty
  • Wear a lightweight knit cap because much of your body heat escapes through the top of your head
  • A scarf around the neck can keep you from getting chilled and will help to cover your body core
  • Insulating socks and fingerless gloves will help while working at your desk
  • If your office is at home, consider moving your workspace around to the warmest spot in the home, away from windows

While most pets have naturally insulating fur, you may want to buy a pet sweater or cut up an old T-shirt for them that still allows free movement while providing an extra layer of warmth. Be sure to set up an old blanket for them to cuddle up to because, despite their fur, below-freezing temps are hard on them too. 

Keep pet walks under 10 minutes because their feet can get frostbite. Also, cuddling up to the dog or cat can keep you both warm. Remember to provide extra bedding for farm and feral animals because they are often out in the elements with little protection. 

Stay safe and warm … and if you find yourself in danger, please call for help.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at

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