As many states face the first harsh winter storm of 2014, I wanted to offer a reminder for folks to be prepared for freezing winter temperatures both inside and outside your homes. I lived in Montana for five years, so some of these tips come first hand! Whether you’re contending with the polar vortex, or just plain cold, snow, ice and wind, there are easy steps you can take to ensure your safety and comfort.
Precipitously dropping temperatures can cause frozen water pipes inside your home, and costly plumbing repairs along with them. By insulating pipes and weatherproofing, you can save money on your winter energy bills and also guard against potential breaks and leaks in your plumbing.
Here’s how you can prepare for ongoing cold weather:
Before frigid weather sets in
- Know the location of your main water shut-off valve. If a pipe freezes or bursts, shut the water off immediately.
- Protect your pipes and water meter. Wrap exposed pipes with insulation or use electrical heat tracing wire. For outside meters, keep the lid to the meter pit closed tightly and let any snow that falls cover it. Snow acts as insulation, so don’t disturb it.
- Know which areas in your home, such as basements, crawl spaces, unheated rooms and outside walls, are most vulnerable to freezing.
- Eliminate cold air sources near water lines by repairing broken windows, insulating walls, closing off crawl spaces and eliminating drafts near doors.
When temperatures are consistently at or below freezing
- If you have pipes that are vulnerable to freezing, allow a small trickle of water to run overnight to keep pipes from freezing. The cost of the extra water is low compared to the cost to repair a broken pipe.
- Open cabinet doors to expose pipes to warmer room temperatures to help keep them from freezing, although be careful to not create a tripping hazard.
If your pipes do freeze
- Shut your water off immediately. Don’t attempt to thaw frozen pipes unless the water is shut off, as freezing can often cause unseen cracks in pipes or joints.
- Apply heat to the frozen pipe by warming the air around it, or by applying heat directly to a pipe. Use of a heating wire is effective.
- If a space heater is used, be sure not to leave it unattended, and avoid the use of kerosene heaters or open flames.
- Once the pipes have thawed, turn the water back on slowly and check for cracks and leaks.
If you’re lucky enough to be going away for a warm vacation
- Have a friend, relative or neighbor regularly check your property to ensure that the heat is working and the pipes have not frozen.
- Also, a freeze alarm can be purchased for less than $100 and will call a user-selected phone number if the inside temperature drops below 45 degrees.
And remember that the holidays aren’t the only time we should be thinking of others. Help protect your friends’ and neighbors’ homes and from extreme winter weather by keeping fire hydrants clear of snow. Substantial snow accumulations combined with the after-effects of plowing roads and parking lots can leave fire hydrants partially or completely buried in snow. You can help firefighters easily locate them and access water quickly, saving valuable time to possibly save lives and structures.
Finally, be sure to report leaking pipes or disrupted water service immediately to your water company. Sub-freezing temperatures can hasten aging water mains to break and cause unsafe driving conditions. Taking care of your home in weather like this is a long-term investment and a good measure of general safety. Stay warm and stay safe this winter!