Most people outside of the Lone Star State think that winter doesn’t visit Central Texas at all. But the people who lived through Winter Storm Uri know different!
While we don’t have the consistent blizzards and snowstorms of some of our northern neighbors, it still gets chilly down here. Temperatures drop below freezing around 25 days a year and occasionally get down to 20 degrees.
That might not seem like a lot. However, even if you can take the cold, your house might be taking a beating. People who live in warm climates most of the time are not as familiar with winterizing their property. Failure to prepare correctly can result in significant damage and growing repair costs in the long run.
To protect your property, you should act before, during, and after freezing weather. Follow the tips below to keep you and your home as prepared as possible.
6 Things to Do Before a Freeze
Preparation is the most critical step to winterizing your home. As they say, prevention is better than a cure!
1. Keep your gutters clean
This is true for a home in any season, but it rings especially true for winter. Clogged gutters can easily get overwhelmed with melting ice, leading to ice dams. So, first, remove any dead leaves and dirt from your gutters. Then, consider installing gutter guards, which will keep out debris in the future.
2. Protect your pipes
One of the most common problems during freezing weather is burst pipes due to frozen water. Water expands by 8% when freezing. To combat this issue, insulate your pipes. Exposed pipes or pipes located in less insulated areas such as the garage or attic are most susceptible to the problem. So, these should be taken care of first. If your home is newer, you may have PEX piping which is freeze-damage resistant, meaning the pipe will expand with the freezing water and constrict back to its original size as the ice melts.
3. Keep out the chill
Find any areas of your house that let in a draft. Usually, the culprits are windows, doors, air conditioning units, pet doors, and mail drops. Make sure to check your attic as well. For substantial gaps the best course of action is to repair any damage you find professionally. It’s an investment that will pay off in the future. For smaller gaps, caulk, weather strips, seals, and door sweeps are great tools to help you out in a pinch.
4. Turn off outside faucets
Most homes in Central Texas have outside faucets that need attention. This includes sprinkler systems as well. You should disconnect any water pipes and repair any cracks. Insulating your hose bibs can also help prevent cold weather damage. For hard freezes, it’s best to drain your sprinkler system, disconnect hoses, and wrap hose bibs.
5. Have an emergency kit at the ready
You never know how long or how destructive the next winterstorm will be. It’s better to be over-prepared, so here are some things that will probably come in handy. Try to have as many of these things on hand as possible. Hopefully, you won’t have to use them all.
- Battery-powered flashlight – to use in a power outage
- Portable phone charger – use your phone to follow updates on twitter or local government websites
- Drinking water – a good rule of thumb is a gallon per person per day for a week
- Canned and other non-perishable food items – granola bars, dried fruit, jerky, etc.
- First aid kit
- Candles – if the power goes out from damaged transmission lines, it’s helpful to have slow burning candles on hand. As with any fire, be careful!
- Extra Blanks or Sleeping Bags – if the power goes out, you probably won’t be able to use your central heater which can cause your indoor temperature to plummet.
- Extra batteries
- Water Shut Off Key – something every homeowner should have, use it to shut off water to your home in case of a broken pipe, or use it to drain the water in your pipes to avoid any breaks.
- Snow shovel
- Ice scraper
- Car charger and jumper cables
6. Bring in some of your outside things
Many things won’t take too kindly to being left outside in a snowstorm. Anything such as grills, mowers, or leaf blowers need to be brought inside to escape damage from the frost. Likewise, if you want your potted plants to survive, they might prefer to be kept inside the garage or the house.
4 Things to Do During a Freeze
1. Keep a drip on
Dripping water from one or more faucets can keep your pipes from bursting or freezing during freezing temperatures. Nothing more than a slight trickle is necessary. However, remember to save the dripping water for future use – as waste is not something we endorse! If the power has been out for over 24 hours, stop dripping the pipes and turn off the main water valve.
2. Keep your faucets warm
Open the cabinet doors below your sink to expose your pipes to the warmer air in the house. This will help prevent frozen pipes. Please note: if you keep any toxic cleaning products like bleach under the sink, move them to a place where they will be inaccessible to children and pets.
3. Turn the thermostat up
If you’re trying to avoid a high utility bill in the winter months, you might not be setting the thermostat very high. This is generally a good idea. However, some of these other tips depend on the house being warm enough to prevent frozen pipes and other issues caused by freezing temperatures. The Department of Energy suggests maintaining a temperature between 65 to 68 degrees. To save energy, try using space heaters to raise the temperature in specific rooms rather than the entire house.
4. Avoid Driving
The roads in Central Texas are not designed to function well under hard freeze conditions, and we’re not equipped with the infrastructure to salt/sand the roads. Moreover, most Central Texas vehicles do not have winter tires, or tires that can function well in freezing conditions. Do yourself a favor and stay off the roads if you can!
Note: Be sure to check on your neighbors and communicate about hyper-local conditions.
2 Things to Do After a Freeze
1. Test the faucets
After a winter storm, make sure you test all your faucets to make sure they are working. Leaks are common issues that are relatively easy to repair. On the other hand, if none of your faucets have water, it could be that the main water line is frozen.
If specific faucets are frozen, there are several things you can do to help them thaw. First, open the tap. If some drips are coming out, simply leave it open. A steady stream of water will eventually thaw it out. If no water is coming out at all, then follow the pipe of the affected faucet and try to find the issue. Look for any bulges, discoloration, or frost. If you can’t find any, run your hand over the part where it feels coldest. Once you’ve located the problem area, try to warm it up by placing some warm towels over the site or even using a portable dryer or space heater. If you still aren’t getting anywhere, enlist the help of your local plumber.
2. Check inside and outside for any damage
Ice and snow can wreak havoc on structures of any size. Even if there’s no significant damage, you should still be on the lookout for cracks. They may appear small but can indicate more serious structural damage that may be costly to repair. Take stock of any damage and repair the affected areas before they become a bigger issue.
We hope that going through this checklist will help you keep your home safe during a cold winter. Remember, the better prepared you are, the less likely you’ll have to spend a lot of time and money on repairs after a storm.
And just because we want you to be extra safe, here are a couple of extra handy tips to consider.
- Do not approach any downed powerlines. Always assume that the lines are live and have electricity running through them. Instead, call your local emergency hotline.
- Do not use your oven as a heating tool. This is a fire hazard and can also release harmful gases into your home. Yes, fires can still happen in the cold.
- Keep your fireplace clean. This will prevent buildup and blockage and is essential to winterize your home.