Taking care in winter

Northern Ireland can get very cold during winter. It’s important to stay protected against a drop in temperature. Keeping warm can help prevent colds, flu or more serious health problems like pneumonia. Find out some simple ways to keep warm, stay healthy and make the best use of your heating.

Heating your home

To keep warm at home during the day:

  • heat your main living room to around 18-21ºC (64-70ºF) and the rest of the house to at least 16ºC (61ºF)
  • heat all the rooms you use in the day
  • if you can’t heat all your rooms, make sure you keep your living room warm throughout the day and heat your bedroom before going to bed
  • set the timer on your heating to come on before you get up and switch off when you go to bed
  • in very cold weather set the heating to come on earlier, rather than turn the thermostat up, so you won’t be cold while you wait for your home to heat up

To stay warm during the night you should:

  • keep the temperature above 18°C (65°F) in your bedroom overnight
  • if you use a fire or heater in your bedroom during winter, open the window or door a little at night for ventilation
  • avoid using an electric blanket with a hot water bottle as you could electrocute yourself

If you have an electric blanket:

  • check what type it is – some are designed only to warm the bed before you get in and should not to be used throughout the night
  • make sure your electric blanket is safe to use by getting it tested every three years - the Fire Brigade, Trading Standards and ageNI can test your electric blanket for safety

Make sure your heating is safe

It is important to make sure your heating is safe and that your house or workplace is properly ventilated, to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Cold weather payments

You may be entitled to financial help during cold spells. Find out more about cold weather payments.

Wear something warm

You can help keep warm by:

  • wearing plenty of thin layers, rather than one thick one
  • putting on a coat, hat, scarf, gloves and warm shoes or boots when you go outside
  • wearing clothes made of wool, cotton, or fleecy synthetic fibres
  • wearing bed socks and thermal underwear at night

Eat well

A balanced diet will help keep you warm and healthy in the winter. Make sure you and your family eat at least one hot meal a day (soup is nutritious and warming, and inexpensive to make or buy).

Stay active and stay in touch

Staying active is good for your health. Walking, for example, can be good for you. If the weather prevents you getting outside, stay active indoors - catch up on all the household tasks you've been putting off.

Talk - especially if you've been stuck in the house for a few days - telephone friends and family. If you have elderly relatives or neighbours who might need help, please check up on them.

Who to contact if you need further help

If you are worried about a relative or an elderly neighbour, contact your local council. The charity ageNI has information about help and support for staying warm in winter.

Look after your pets

Taking care of animals may become difficult in cold weather:

  • don't leave your dog or cat outdoors in freezing temperatures for long
  • make sure they have a warm place to sleep, away from draughts
  • after a walk in snowy, icy or wet conditions, dry your pet off as quickly as possible and make sure they keep warm
  • some dogs will need a properly fitting dog coat in cold weather
  • take care of yourself when walking your dog in icy conditions, as a dog pulling on the lead can cause you to lose your balance

Don't leave your cat or dog alone in a car during cold weather.

Flooding and severe weather

Weather in Northern Ireland can be severe. Extreme shifts in weather patterns can lead to flooding in vulnerable areas and make some roads and motorways inaccessible.

The Met Office works with the Rivers Agency, TransportNI and NI Water to forecast areas where floods are likely. You should contact your local agency if there is flooding or telephone the flooding incident line:

The Met Office's severe weather warning page provides up-to-date information about weather that is likely to cause disruption.

If you plan to travel during bad weather, you should visit the Met Office website for travel conditions. If you must drive during severe weather, make sure you are prepared for bad weather conditions.

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