Wintry Weather Checklist: What to do before and during to help prevent issues at your home

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Winter weather is expected to sweep through Central Texas all the way through the weekend and into next week. Temperatures could be dropping into the single digits and bring the potential for ice and snow across Central Texas.

This potential record-breaking weather may cause some concern for those of us who, let’s just say, are more experienced with hot and humid weather rather than the pretty flakes that fell from the sky in the Austin area on Jan. 10.

To help you prepare, KXAN spoke with some Central Texas experts for some tips to help you and your family with what is to come.

Your electricity: Prepare yourself

Austin Energy has their line workers, troubleshooters and forestry crews at the ready for any wintry weather flare ups that may come up for customers.

Spokesperson Jennifer Herber told KXAN they want everyone to know safety is their top priority as they prepare for weather like this.

The main thing they’ll be watching for is the impact on trees near power lines. The weather to come could bring the potential for rain mixing with sleet, freezing rain or snow, which could weigh down tree limbs — thus possibly causing power outages.

However, Herber offered some tips for those who could be impacted:

  • Storm prep kit with a plan: Put together a storm prep kit that has flashlights with fresh batteries. Herber says they like to advise that people avoid candles since they can become a fire risk. Have water and snacks at the ready in the event of slick roads. Also, talk to your family about what you all will do if the power goes out.
  • Try to keep refrigerator doors closed: Resist the temptation to have it open. Many worry during these events about keeping food from spoiling, however keeping it closed helps retain that cold temperature.
  • Consider the possibility of having an alternate power source: A generator could not hurt, however, please exercise caution and know the rules when it comes to how to use it safely. Gas-powered generators can pose a fire or carbon monoxide threat. Never run it indoors, make sure it has a double-throw transfer switch and follow the instructions on proper installation carefully.
  • Have an extra portable phone charger on hand: We can’t always have our devices completely charged, but having a portable charger just might be that saving grace get you through.
  • Keep the thermostat at 68 degrees if you can: During a really cold storm, this can help save energy, thus potentially preventing the need for rolling outages or causing even more outages in your area.
  • Sign up for Outage Alerts with Austin Energy: A spokesperson says those alerts will keep you updated on what is going on when there is an outage and how to stay safe
    • Note: During major winter weather related outages, Austin Energy says the Estimated Restoration Time from their Outage Map is not applicable because of the variables involved with making the repairs.
    • They recommend you watch their social media accounts for the latest updates on their work
  • Watch for downed power lines: If you see a downed power line, assume it is energized and do not go near it or drive over it. Call 311 to report it, and if you see sparks, call 911 immediately.

KXAN also asked about the potential need for rolling outages throughout the city, however Herber said it is the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, that gives direction to energy operators about whether this is necessary. Should the need for rolling outages come up, the Austin Energy spokesperson says they follow ERCOT’s calls, and the outages usually last less than 10 minutes or so.

We issued an operational notice asking generators to take necessary steps to prepare their facilities for the expected cold weather. This includes reviewing fuel supplies and planned outages and implementing winter weatherization procedures. We are also working with transmission operators to minimize outages that could impact generation.

Leslie Sopko, ERCOT spokesperson

Heater safety, carbon monoxide poisoning

OchsnerHealth advises you to check your smoke detectors to ensure they’re working. Change the batteries ahead of time.

The health provider also tells you to install a carbon monoxide detector on every floor of your residence. CO is a poisonous gas that can be harmful and decreases the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. CO poisoning symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion, according to the CDC.

Make sure you’re getting your gas heater checked out at least once a year by a professional, OchsnerHealth said. A broken heater or furnace could leak carbon monoxide into your home or cause a fire.

In a similar way, have a professional look at your fireplace and clean it every year. Keep flammable materials away from the fire and do not burn trash or cardboard boxes in it.

Don’t use your oven or stove as a heating source; this poses a fire hazard and can release dangerous gases, the health provider said.

Keep a safe perimeter around electric space heaters. Check for faulty wiring as well that could create an electric shock or fire. Keep an eye on children and pets around the heater, and turn the heater off before leaving the room or going to bed, OchsnerHealth advises.

Plumbing: Prevention is key

ABC Home & Commercial Services are already seeing an uptick in calls from customers asking for preparation help ahead of the cold temperatures.

“When it comes, typically our call volume will rise anywhere from 40 to 70%,” said Mike Marugo, Austin plumbing division manager for ABC Home & Commercial Services. “If Sunday doesn’t make our switchboard light up like a Christmas tree, Monday certainly will so we’re ready for it.”

Marugo says he thinks if those below freezing temperatures linger for a while, as they are supposed to with this weather event, we could see some pipe-freezing issues.

“One of the big issues really is, we don’t build for it here like they do in certain parts of the country,” says Marugo. “They don’t have as many frozen pipe issues in really cold climates, because they build differently to account for it.”

Learn More with David Yeomans’ First Warning Weather University: Why do pipes burst when they freeze?

He offered his expertise on what to do before and during freezing cold and below freezing temperatures.

BEFORE the event:

  • Check your pipes: If they are exposed, which is common for homes in Central Texas, make sure they are insulated properly especially if they are in a crawl space or attic.
  • Check your hose bibs: Experts recommend looking over your spigot to make sure there are no leaks. This will help prevent freezing and cracking. You can also cover your hose bibs to help protect them.

DURING the event:

  • Open the cabinets under sinks/near plumbing: This will help pipes receive more exposure to the heat inside your home to prevent freezing.
  • Watch your inside temperature: Do not turn your heat temperature too low at night or when you are leaving your home, otherwise it prevents your pipes from benefitting from that heat.
  • Drip several faucets throughout the inside of your house: You don’t have to do all of them, but while you’re not using any fixtures with an outside wall on one side, allow them to drip from both the cold and hot water. A constant drip is preferable, especially when temperatures stay at 20 degrees or lower for long periods of time. DO NOT drip the hose spigots on any outside fixtures.

AFTER the event:

  • If no water comes out when you turn the water on, that could indicate some freezing, but don’t panic, that doesn’t mean anything is broken. Have it checked out by a plumber to be sure.
  • Check for anything that sounds like it’s running, even when you don’t have anything on. That could mean there’s a problem.
  • If you don’t have proper insulation for your pipes, keep that in mind for after this weather event and make it a point to get that done to prepare for the next time.

If you are renting, guidance from the City of Austin says you could be held responsible for property damage if a pipe breaks during severe weather conditions. Residents should contact property management, their landlord or maintenance personnel to find the property’s cut-off valve ahead of time to try to avoid any issues.

In the event of an emergency, call Austin Water’s 24-Hour Emergency Hotline at (512) 972-1000, and press Option 1.

Landscaping, plants and sprinkler systems

For those of you with picturesque lawns and beautiful foliage adorning your home, the experts encourage you to plan ahead.

“The more you do and put in the time and effort to prevent, the more thankful you’ll be after the fact when this is over, and you have little to no damage at all,” said Scott Martin, the division manager over lawn, landscape, tree and irrigation services with ABC Home & Commercial.

The key to preventing any big plant catastrophes is to protect their roots. “Damage to plants above ground is not as critical to damage below ground,” said Martin.

He also added this weather event will be different than the one in January, due to the fact that at or below freezing temperatures are expected to linger over a few days.

Here are some tips:

  • Cover your plants: You can use blankets, drop cloths and even bed sheets to go over them, but the key is to create some space between the cover and the plant itself. In that empty space, that air will stay warmer, thus helping to protect your plant.
  • Add some mulch: Applying three to four inches of mulch to the roots of plants will help keep the soil warm and protect the roots. It produces heat, so by putting that down, that can make a huge difference.
  • Move plants that are in containers and those are that freshly planted: These are the most vulnerable to the cold. You don’t have to bring them inside, putting them in a garage will work.
  • Water the day or two before the freeze event: That will create an insulated soil effect, filling those spaces of air in it with heat and will help the temperature of the soil stay higher and slow down the freezing process. At the same time, do NOT water the foliage above ground. That will defeat the soil watering purpose.
  • Turn off your sprinkler system: During the main freezing temperature event. Do run your sprinkler system immediately after that weather event during the day, and at a time where you can watch to be sure there are no leaks or broken heads.
  • Disconnect your hose: Leaving water in a hose is a recipe for freezing and cracking.

Smith did stress after the wintry weather goes away and then sun is out, be sure to remove those covers off of your plants to air them out and prevent freezing again.

If any issues should come up, Martin says you should always reach out to the professionals for help.

A few KXAN viewer have been sharing some additional tips, including:

  • Closing off attic vents, filling up the bathtub in case of water loss from frozen pipes or water main breaks, and doing laundry before the coldest air arrives late Sunday.

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