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How to Prep for Freezing Temperatures

Though they don't happen often in Texas, it's important to know how to prep for freezing temperatures to protect your home.

Freezing temperatures in our area aren’t very common; when they happen they usually come in fast, last for a day and then jump back to shorts weather. But when they come, homeowners can usually be found scrambling, searching for insulation materials in local hardware stores. All in the name of protecting water pipes from a quick, hard freeze. Which is precisely why we need to know how to prep for freezing temperatures.

What is a Hard Freeze?

A hard freeze is a temperature under 30° for over eight hours. When water freezes, it expands. When the freeze ends, the result can be broken pipes, no water, a big repair bill and the cost for the lost water. Those are not the only expenses and source of aggravation. You may also have to replace carpet, flooring, sheetrock, furniture, and other possessions. Those are the immediate issues, but there can be latent damage as well. With galvanized pipe, the pipe may not burst, but expansion can occur separating the galvanizing from the pipe and creating an area for corrosion to start and ultimately create leaks.

Sprinkler Systems

During Winter Storm Uri, one of the more vulnerable spots for leaks and bursts were the irrigation systems on residential homes. Below are some basic tips as well as pictures and instructions for irrigation backflow preventers; additionally, homeowners are always encouraged to consult with a irrigation specialist or plumber. It’s the first step to prep for freezing temperatures.

1. Identify the sprinkler backflow device (PVB). They are usually located on the same side of the house that your water main runs along. The irrigation shut off valves and backflow device are one of the common issues that most residents deal with during an extended freeze.

2. Turn off the shut-off valve. Most residential devices have two shut-off valves. These are typically covered in blue on the valve handles and located before and after the back flow device. Rotate the lever closest to the ground 90 degrees as shown below. Do NOT rotate the other lever – leaving it open will relieve the pressure on that valve.

3. Release the water pressure. With a flathead screwdriver release the water from the bleeder valves. The bleeder valves are usually located under the top of the backflow device. If the water does not stop flowing you may have not shut the valves off completely. Leave the small bleeder valves open, this will let the any remaining water in the line expand without breaking the device.

Sprinkler 1

1. Your sprinkler backflow device (PVB) should look something like this and will often be near your water main.

Sprinkler 2

2. Rotate the lever closest to the ground 90 degrees as shown here. Do not rotate the other lever.

Sprinkler 3

3. Remove covers and, using a flathead screwdriver, rotate both test valves 90 degrees to drain the backflow device.

Next, run a manual zone for one minute from the sprinkler controller to drain any remaining water from the backflow device. Finally, insulate your backflow device. Most hardware / home services stores carry backflow insulation supplies. It’s usually best to have insulation materials on hand BEFORE a freeze warning comes along since those announcements on the news often create shortages at hardware stores.

After the freeze is over, close both test valves using a flathead screwdriver (the slots should be perpendicular to the valve opening), replace the protective covers (if any), and turn the lower lever 90 degrees to resume water flow to your sprinkler system. Turn your sprinkler system controller back on and run another manual zone for one minute to re-pressurize your system.

When temperatures are expected to drop below freezing, it is also a good time to refresh on the four P’s: People, Pets, Pipes, and Plants.

People

Avoid going outside if it is not necessary. If you do, make sure you layer up from head to toe. To keep you and your family safe, it is imperative your home is warm. Make sure your heat is set to an appropriate temperature to make your entire home comfortable. Remember, heat rises so if you sleep upstairs, your room may be warmer than rooms downstairs. Never use your stove or oven to heat your home. If you smell smoke or see flames, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Pets

While protecting your family, it is imperative to protect your pets as well. Pets, like humans, are vulnerable to cold temperatures. If not taken care of properly, they can succumb to frostbite and even hypothermia. If you have a dog that typically lives outdoors, consider letting them inside when temperatures drop to freezing. While their fur does help to keep them warm, it provides little help in freezing temperatures. If you absolutely cannot bring them inside, make sure they have a warm shelter, plenty of food and fresh water so it does not freeze. If your pet looks like it has any symptoms resembling frostbite or hypothermia, call your vet.

Pipes

All garden hoses should be disconnected from outside spigots. Make sure to cover all your exposed pipes with a insulation and tape tightly. You can also cover your pipes with faucet covers, towels, duct tape or another adhesive strips as long as they are wrapped tightly.

Make sure your gutters are cleared of any debris. If water is prevented from draining from your gutters and subsequently freezes, that places an enormous amount of weight on your gutters than can cause them to pull away from your roofline and create an expensive repair.

Let your faucets drip throughout the day to keep them from freezing. You should also open up the cabinets to let warm air circulate throughout your home. Just make sure any harmful chemicals are out of reach for children and pets. While you’re at it, test to make sure all of your smoke alarms are operating correctly.

Familiarize yourself with where precisely your water main is located. SHOULD a pipe still burst despite these preparations, you’ll want to be able to turn off the water as quickly as possibly to prevent additional damage and expensive water remediation repairs.

Plants

When cold weather hits, it’s a good idea to bring in all of your outdoor plants. If you can’t bring in the plant, cover it with a blanket to make sure they do not die. Strong winds often accompany freezing weather so if you’re using blankets, make sure you anchor those blanks with heavy rocks or other weights to prevent them from blowing away.

Some Final Thoughts

Here are a few vehicle-safety tips to observe during winter weather: Keep vehicle gas tanks full. Have tire pressures checked. Keep a phone charger, first aid kit, blankets, and jumper cables in personal vehicles. Check local road conditions at www.houstontranstar.org. State highway information is also available at www.drivetexas.org.

Lastly, some safety tips recommended by local Fire Departments regarding space heaters and other supplemental heating sources:

If you use a space heater, make sure to keep it away from anything that may be flammable including curtains, indoor plants, bedding, etc. Also, do not keep it running overnight and do not keep it running in an unoccupied room. Always turn off space heaters when leaving the room and/or going to sleep. Do not power space heaters with extension cords or power strips; do not use power strips or extension cords as an alternative for permanent wiring.

Never leave a space heater unattended, or a child unattended with a space heater. Keep all combustible materials (and people) at least three (3) feet away from space heaters. If you use a fireplace, make sure you have a screen to catch any embers that might escape or a rolling log. Never overload outlets or breakers.

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