AUSTIN (KXAN) — Cold temperatures have arrived in Central Texas, and an unprepared home can waste money trying to keep warm. Or in a worst-case scenario, pose a health risk to occupants.
The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) recommends taking steps to prepare well ahead of inclement weather. Sometimes, the tools and parts required for winterization can fly off shelves and out of giveaways quickly — last year, a City of Austin giveaway of meter keys and outdoor spigot covers saw huge demand.
TDI’s tips start with inspecting your home: chimney, furnace, smoke detectors and attic insulation. The seal around doors and windows should not have any gaps; these can be sealed with foam insulation strips.
The Travis County Office of Emergency Management shared a series of tips in September (National Preparedness Month) focused on getting ready for winter storms. In one of the posts, the office asks that we check in on our neighbors during severe weather. In particular, it asks for check-ins with older adults and people with disabilities. Another post offers tips to prepare for winter driving.
Central Texas residents can also sign up for emergency alerts at WarnCentralTexas.org.
What goes in an emergency kit?
One tip shared by many agencies is always to have an emergency kit ready. Specifics can vary, but many local agencies recommend the following:
- flashlights with extra batteries,
- back-up chargers,
- portable radio,
- first-aid kit,
- prescription medications,
- matches in a sealable plastic bag,
- non-electric can opener,
- hand sanitizer and wet wipes,
- cash, and
- a whistle.
If the power goes out
Power outages can happen during cold weather, and an unprepared home can become dangerous. The City of Austin operates warming centers for those without heated homes. If necessary, city residents can call 311 for a ride to one of the centers.
One issue reported during February’s ice storm was frozen tree limbs pulling down power lines. Texas law prevents unauthorized individuals from pruning around electric wires. To report a tree that may become an issue, Austin Energy has an online form to request tree trimming service.
Austin Energy public information officer Matt Mitchell said that the power company’s staff trains and prepares for severe weather year-round but still recommends preparedness.
Some tips provided by Mitchell:
- Sign up for Austin Energy alerts by sending “REGISTER” in a text message to 287846, or follow Austin Energy on social media for emergency information
- Check your contact info with Austin Energy or your local electricity provider
- Avoid downed powerlines and structures around them, which may be energized
- Pay attention to ERCOT public notices for conservation requests
He also warns that electric heating devices, such as space heaters and electric blankets, can create hazards if misused or left unattended. A statement by the Electrical Safety Foundation claims that these devices are “the second leading cause of home fires in the United States” with 65,000 fires yearly.
Finally, portable generators should never be used inside of a home and cooking appliances should also not be used for heat.