About Excess Cold

A healthy indoor temperature is around 70°F, although people generally do not feel cold until the temperature drops below 64°F. A small risk of negative health effects begins once the temperature falls below 66°F. Serious health risks occur below 61°F with a much greater risk of breathing and heart conditions. Below 50°F the risk of hypothermia becomes significant, especially for the elderly.1

Facts and Figures

  • Although there is an increase in winter deaths in all age groups, it becomes significant for the 45+ age group. The risk steadily increases with age up to the 85+ age group, after which there is a significant increase in risk.1
  • The main cause of winter deaths appears to be changes in outdoor temperature, but seasonal infections, and changes in behavior, air pollution levels and nutrition may also account for some of the seasonal pattern.1
  • People living in homes that are poorly heated are at significantly greater risk of winter death.1
  • The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can be worsened by cold. Low temperatures also aggravate sickle cell anemia and other blood disorders, and can affect the healing of leg skin ulcers.1


Cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks and strokes account for half the excess winter deaths, and respiratory diseases such as influenza, pneumonia and bronchitis account for another third. The increase in deaths from heart attacks occurs about two days following the onset of a cold spell. The delay is about five days for deaths from stroke, and about twelve days for respiratory deaths.1

Gain Control: Actions You Can Take

To help prevent health and safety risks due to excess cold, see below for suggested actions you can take2:

  • Insulate walls and attic.
  • Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.
  • Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside.
  • Insulate any water lines that run along outer walls (water will be less likely to freeze).
  • Your ability to feel a change in temperature decreases with age, and older people are more susceptible to health problems caused by cold. If you are over 65 years old, place an easy-to-read thermometer in an indoor location where you will see it frequently, and check the temperature of your home often during the winter months.
  • Bring your pets indoors during the winter.

Local Resources for Detroit Residents

For contact information of partner organizations that might be able to provide help with excess cold hazards in your home, visit our Get Help page.


1U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development: Healthy Home Rating System – Operating Guidance (http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=operating_guidance_hhrs_v1.pdf)
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety (http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/guide.asp