Winter Storm Safety (Freezing Pipes)

Winter Storm Safety (Freezing Pipes)

Winter Storm Safety (Freezing Pipes)

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Take immediate precautions if you hear these words on the news:

Winter Storm WARNING: Life-threatening, severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours.

Blizzard WARNING: Sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 miles per hour or greater, plus considerable falling or blowing snow reducing visibility to less than a quarter-mile, expected to prevail for three hours or longer.

More storm words:

  • WIND CHILL Temperature: How cold people and animals feel when outside. As wind increases, heat is carried away from your body at a faster rate, driving down your body temperature and making you feel much colder. The wind chill temperature is not the actual temperature but rather how wind and cold feel on exposed skin.
  • Winter Storm OUTLOOK: Winter storm conditions possible in the next two to five days. Stay tuned to local media for updates.
  • Winter Storm WATCH: Winter storm conditions possible within the next 36 to 48 hours. Review your winter storm plans and stay informed about weather conditions.
  • Winter Weather ADVISORY: Winter weather conditions expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous but not life-threatening if you are cautious.

Be sure you’re Red Cross Ready. That means:

How to Prepare for a Winter Storm

Protecting your family

  • Talk with your family about what to do if a winter storm watch or warning is issued. Discussing winter storms ahead of time helps reduce fear, particularly for young children.
  • Have your vehicle winterized before the winter storm season to decrease your chance of being stranded in cold weather.
  • Have a mechanic check your battery, antifreeze, wipers and windshield washer fluid, ignition system, thermostat, lights, flashing hazard lights, exhaust system, heater, brakes, defroster, and oil.
  • Install good winter tires with adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate but some jurisdictions require vehicles to be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.
  • Keep in your vehicle: a windshield scraper and small broom, a small sack of sand for generating traction under wheels and a set of tire chains or traction mats, matches in a waterproof container, a brightly colored (preferably red) cloth to tie to the antenna, an emergency supply kit, including warm clothing.
  • Keep your vehicle’s gas tank full so you can leave right away in an emergency and keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Keep a supply of non-clumping kitty litter to make walkways and steps less slippery.
  • Service snow removal equipment before the winter storm season and maintain it in good working order.
  • Keep handy a warm coat, gloves or mittens, hat, water-resistant boots, and extra blankets and warm clothing for each member of the household.

Protecting your home

Why Pipe Freezing is a Problem

Water has a unique property in that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. No matter the strength of a container, expanding water can cause pipes to break.

Pipes that freeze most frequently are:

  • Pipes that are exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, and water sprinkler lines.
  • Water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets.
  • Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation.

How to Protect Pipes from Freezing

Before the onset of cold weather, protect your pipes from freezing by following these recommendations:

  • Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer’s or installer’s directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is environmentally harmful and is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.
  • Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
  • Add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas.
  • Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold-water pipes in these areas should be insulated.
  • Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a “pipe sleeve” or installing UL-listed “heat tape”, “heat cable,” or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspapers can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes – even ¼” of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.
  • Consider relocating exposed pipes to provide increased protection from freezing.

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
  • When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold-water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

  • If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely places for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hairdryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
  • Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.
  • Make sure your home heating sources are installed according to local codes and permit requirements and are clean and in working order.
  • Make sure your home is properly insulated. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windowsills to keep cold air out.
  • Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside to provide an extra layer of insulation to keep cold air out.
  • Consider buying emergency heating equipment, such as a wood- or coal-burning stove or an electric or kerosene heater.
  • Stoves must be properly vented and in good working order. Dispose of ashes safely. Keep a supply of wood or coal on hand.
  • Electric space heaters, either portable or fixed, must be certified by an independent testing laboratory. Plug a heater directly into the wall socket rather than using an extension cord and unplug it when it is not in use.
  • Use a kerosene heater only if permitted by law in your area; check with your local fire department. Use only the correct fuel for your unit. Properly ventilate the area. Refuel the unit outdoors only, and only when the unit is cool. Follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Consider storing sufficient heating fuel. Regular fuel sources may be cut off. Be cautious of fire hazards when storing any type of fuel.
  • If you have a fireplace, consider keeping a supply of firewood or coal. Be sure the fireplace is properly vented and in good working order and that you dispose of ashes safely.
  • Consider installing a portable generator, following our safety tips to avoid home fires and carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Consider purchasing flood insurance, if you live in a flood-prone area, to cover possible flood damage that may occur during the spring thaw. Homeowners’ policies do not cover damage from floods.

Ask your insurance agent about the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) if you are at risk.

More information on NFIP is available at www.fema.gov/nfip.

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