Winter is well and truly upon us, but it may get even colder.
Most Texans will remember the North American winter storm that hit the state in mid-February 2021, also known as The Great Texas Freeze. The storm brought unusual and unpredictable weather for that time of year, engulfing the entirety of the state in snow and ice. Austin County and Travis County officials estimated that the storm caused at least $195 billion in damage in Texas.
Of course, we hope we don’t see a repeat of this extremity in 2024, but lower temperatures and unfavorable weather conditions are likely, so it’s important to start getting prepared now. Subfreezing temperatures and raging storms can pose a range of risks to your home, but putting certain measures in place and taking preventative actions ahead of time can lower the risk of encountering inconvenient and costly impacts from the weather.
If your local area is predicting an upcoming cold snap, here are our top tips for preparing your home.
Prevent frozen pipes
Subfreezing temperatures can cause havoc in the pipes that run through your cabinets and exterior walls. If these pipes are to freeze, temporarily losing the usability of that particular pipe is the least of your concerns, as frozen pipes can burst, causing flooding inside your home.
The key to preventing frozen pipes is keeping your home well-insulated and warm. Keep the heating on in your home to help your pipes maintain a stable temperature, keeping your thermostat set to a minimum of 55℉ all day and night, including when you leave the house. The potential rise in energy costs during the period is a worthy investment, as the bill won’t compare with the cost of replacing a burst pipe. Open any kitchen and bathroom cabinets to allow the heat from your home to reach any pipes behind them.
Increase the insulation in any areas of your home where pipes may run through unheated areas, such as attics, crawl spaces, and basements. You can purchase pipe sleeves, heat tape, and heat cables to wrap any pipes to add insulation, but a newspaper can also be effective in a pinch. If your garage contains water supply lines, keep the door closed to maintain the interior temperature, and if any faucets are connected to a pipe that is exposed outside, leave the faucet slowly dripping to maintain a constant flow of water through the pipe.
How to fix a frozen pipe
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to unfreeze the pipe yourself without the need for a professional. The process is relatively simple, but its effectiveness will depend on how frozen the pipes are.
Apply heat to the frozen pipe, either with a heating pad, hair dryer, or portable space heater – do not use an open flame. Keep the faucet running while you heat the pipe, as flowing water will help melt the ice. Continue applying heat until normal water pressure is restored.
If a frozen pipe is to burst, you will need to shut off your water supply. Make yourself aware of the location of the main shutoff valve in your home as you will need to access it quickly in an emergency.
Home preparation for winter
Protecting against freezing pipes isn’t the only task to tick off in the lead-up to a cold spell. Homeowners should also:
- Prevent drafts – Use weather stripping or caulk to seal up any gaps around windows or doors. This will help your home maintain heat throughout the winter.
- Clean out your gutters – Gutters clogged up with leaves and other debris can lead to a backup of water after rain. If the temperature drops below freezing, this water may solidify into ice which adds weight to gutters. This poses the risk of your gutters pulling away from your home.
- Check your heating system and thermostat – Have a professional service your heating system before the temperature dramatically drops, giving time to rectify any concerns or faults before heating your home becomes vital. The same applies to your thermostat – make sure that its batteries aren’t running low, and if they are, change them or ensure that you have spares to hand.
- Stock up on heating supplies – This could be wood, coal, propane or fuel, depending on how you heat your home. If the weather gets dire and you are unable to make it to the store and replenish supplies mid-freeze, you’ll be grateful that you stocked up ahead of time.
- Clean and inspect your chimney – If your home has a fireplace, it’s worthwhile to have the chimney cleaned and inspected by a chimney sweep company before the cold weather really sets in. This will ensure that the chimney is safe to use for heating your home.
- Prepare for ice – Subfreezing temperatures bring icy conditions to the roads and sidewalks. Be prepared with ice melt or sand to de-ice your driveway and other walkways around the exterior of your home if necessary.
- Trim trees and branches – Strong winds can cause weaker trees and branches to fall, so cut down any that don’t appear healthy to avoid potential damage to your or your neighbor’s home. It’s also advised to trim any branches that are close to your windows since ice-coated branches can cause damage to the glass.
- Stock up on essentials – In extreme weather conditions, you may find yourself confined to your house for an extended period. Stock up on bottled water, non-perishable food, blankets, flashlights, and batteries in case your power goes out. It can be beneficial to have a battery-powered radio on hand, too, in case the phone lines are damaged.
Any Texan knows that the weather in the state can be extreme and highly unpredictable, so it’s a good idea to stay informed about the forecast and be prepared for varying conditions. Keep an eye on local news and weather updates, and ensure that emergency alerts are enabled on your smartphone.
If you do fall victim to a weather-related mishap this winter and find your home damaged, contact a professional to assist with the repairs and restoration.