Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Winter tip medley

February may be the shortest month of the year, but it sure feels longest. Especially when it's such a brutal, frigid, snowy February as the one we've had this year. Fortunately, it looks like March will bring some relief: for my area, at least, the weather forecast shows that daytime temperatures should be consistently peaking above the freezing point all month, and by the middle of the month it might get up to a balmy 50 to 55 degrees. But we've still got three more days of winter chill to plow through before we get there, so I figured I might as well share a quick roundup of useful tips for wintry weather.

First, from the Tip Hero website, a recipe for a simple homemade ice melter you can make with common household ingredients. The website has a video that shows how to do it, but in a nutshell, you just fill a gallon jug half-full with warm water, then add six drops of ordinary dish soap and two ounces of rubbing alcohol. I already know from experience that rubbing alcohol will melt ice, but I'm not sure what the dish soap is for; perhaps it makes the alcohol solution penetrate the ice better, or something. In the interests of proper reporting, I mixed up a half batch of this in my own kitchen and tried it out on some ice in our driveway that we didn't manage to clear away after the last snowfall. As you can see from the pictures, it didn't really make all that much impression on the ice. It washed away a bit of it, but I'm not sure plain hot water wouldn't have worked equally well. It certainly didn't do any better than the commercial ice melt I tried earlier in the day, and it isn't nearly as convenient to use, since a single batch only covers a small patch of ice. But if the stores happened to be completely out of ice melt (a situation we encountered last winter), this stuff would probably do the job in a pinch.

The second tip, also from Tip Hero, is about improving your gas mileage in cold weather. The article is actually about getting better gas mileage in general, but a few of the tips in it relate specifically to winter driving. For instance, the author notes that a cold engine doesn't run as efficiently, so keeping your car in a garage where it's at least somewhat protected from the cold will help it get up to its ideal running temperature more quickly. It also recommends combining short trips, so you'll be starting the engine when it's already warmed up—which is good advice even in warm weather. Unfortunately, we don't have a garage to stash our car in, and there's not much we can do about the multiple short trips Brian has to make back and forth to work. (We suspect the drop in our average gas mileage each winter has at least as much to do with the fact that he can't bike to work in the winter, and so more of the car's miles are city driving rather than highway driving, as it has to do with the cold itself.)

The third tip comes from the Readers' Tips section in the Dollar Stretcher. It's about making your home more comfortable in the winter by boosting the indoor humidity. This reader suggests doing your laundry in the evening and letting the clothes hang to dry, adding their moisture to the air. This probably wouldn't work too well in our house, where the nighttime temperature is in the 50s and the humidity tends to be over 50 percent even in the winter; most likely, the clothes wouldn't be anywhere near dry by morning. But if you have to do laundry anyway, there's no real downside to doing it this way. Even if the humidity boost is trivial, it should still cut down somewhat on dryer time and save you some energy.

And lastly, here's a just-for-fun suggestion from this week's Tip Hero newsletter: snow ice cream. This is a bit more elaborate than just pouring syrup on the snow to make snow cones; you have to harvest two to three quarts of "fresh, clean snow," sprinkle it with vanilla extract (which will presumably melt it slightly, since it contains alcohol), and fold in a ten-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk. From the picture, it looks a bit more like gelato than ice cream—somewhat icier and less creamy in texture—but with such simple ingredients, I guess there's no way it could actually taste bad. And you could always try making different flavors by blending the milk with chocolate syrup or coffee before mixing.

So here's hoping these tips will help see you through the last of winter in reasonable comfort, and we'll all make it through to spring quickly.
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