ERROL CASTENS: The return of the unsolicited adviser



Being a 50-something-year-old man brings with it the prerogative of offering unsolicited advice, so here goes:

Some friends were without power – and thus heat as well – on Wednesday morning, when the thermometer reached 1 degree in Oxford.

Folks with central heat or a blower-dependent fireplace insert but who have propane or natural gas for cooking or hot water might add at least one gas-fueled space heater. They run without electricity and can be a life-saving heat source in an ice storm or other power failure.

Unlike your grandmother’s space heaters, modern ones come with thermostats so you needn’t keep anything more than a pilot light burning when the heat isn’t needed. A bonus is that you can leave home in winter without worrying whether the house will freeze if the power fails.

• On a cold or rainy day you’ll see people driving around with their windows fogged up, trying to get their defroster to put out enough heat to get above the dew point.

The solution is actually simple: Turn on the air conditioner for a few seconds. The car’s air conditioner pulls moisture out of its passenger compartment the way a window unit lowers the humidity in a room on a humid July day. (Many cars are designed to turn the compressor on any time you choose the defroster setting, but on some you have to choose the AC setting.)

If the heat is turned up, the air conditioner won’t freeze you out.

• If you shower or bathe in a tub, consider leaving the drain closed. (Winter only, please!) Much of the heat from the water will dissipate back into your home instead of sending paid-for BTUs down the drain, and the humidity is a boon in the dry air of heated homes. Pull the plug after the water’s reached room temperature. The same principle applies when you boil potatoes or wash dishes in the sink in cold weather: Keep that heat!

• Atlanta’s unexpected snow-and-ice nightmare should be a reminder: You can never know when emergencies might occur. (They’re called “emergencies,” um, because they emerge unexpectedly.)

A blanket, a warm cap, extra socks and some chemical hand- and foot-warming packs will make an overnight stay in the car more bearable. An ice scraper, compact shovel and battery cables may help get your car drivable again. You’ll want boots, a warm coat and a reflective vest in case you have to go for help or shelter on foot. Add in the jumper cables, paper towels, energy bars, bottled water, flashlights, extra batteries and basic tools that every vehicle should have constantly, and what might be life-threatening becomes merely the inconvenient and uncomfortable source of future family lore.

Contact Daily Journal reporter Errol Castens at (662) 816-1282 or

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