When winter weather and freezing temperatures are forecasted in our area, it’s time to prepare to avoid potential damage and costly insurance claims. Two important things to consider are water damage from frozen pipes and safety if using a generator.
Frozen pipes present an invisible threat – one that you might not recognize until the weather starts to warm. By then, damage can be costly. Fortunately, keeping your home warmer, at a consistent temperature, and better insulated can help protect your pipes from freezing this winter.
Freezing temperatures also come with snow and ice storms that can knock your power out for an extended period of time. During a power outage, portable generators can offer temporary power, but there are potential risks associated with the use of these generators. Generators can be dangerous, and can lead to illness and injury, and even death if used improperly.
Your Peel & Holland team wants you be prepared to stay warm, dry, and most importantly – SAFE!
How to Help Prevent Frozen Pipes
- Check for areas where water pipes are located in unheated or poorly insulated areas. Be sure to check your basement, attic, crawl space, garage and within cabinets containing plumbing. Hot and cold water pipes should both be insulated.
- Products such as pipe sleeves or UL-listed heat tape or heat cable can help insulate or heat exposed water pipes.
- Close inside valves supplying water to outdoor faucets and hookups.
- Open outdoor faucets to allow residual water to drain; be sure to keep them open during the cold weather months, while the water supply is turned off.
- Keep garage doors closed to help protect water pipes located in the garage or similar area.
- Open the doors on cabinets where plumbing is located. This can help allow warmer air to circulate around the pipes.
- For pipes that are at risk of freezing (both hot and cold water pipes), let water drip from faucets.
- Keep the heat in your home or office set at a minimum of 55 degrees.
Why is a Frozen Pipe a Concern?
When water begins to freeze, it expands. This can cause both plastic and metal pipes to burst, possibly leading to significant water damage to your home.
- Since water expands when it freezes, it puts unwanted pressure on pipes.
- As water freezes, the force exerted from the expansion can cause a pipe to burst, regardless of the strength of the material.
- You may not know you have a burst pipe as the water has turned to ice. Once the temperature starts to warm and thawing begins, leaking and flooding can occur.
Which Pipes Are Most at Risk?
Pipes that are most exposed to the elements, including those outdoors and along the exterior walls of your home, may need extra protection during winter months. These include the following:
- Outdoor hose hookups and faucets.
- Swimming pool supply lines.
- Lawn sprinkler lines.
- Water pipes in unheated, interior locations such as basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages and kitchen and bathroom cabinets.
- Pipes running against exterior walls with little or no insulation.
What Do You Do if You Have a Frozen Pipe?
If you suspect pipes in your home have been exposed to freezing temperatures, or water is not flowing through a faucet normally, follow these steps to help reduce the potential for water damage:
- Locate and close the main water shutoff valve as soon as possible and before temperatures rise above freezing.
- Open all faucets including those outside to drain remaining water from pipes.
- Have buckets, towels and fans available to contain, clean-up and dry water leaks.
- Slowly turn water back on and inspect for leaks. If there are leaks, be prepared to turn the water off immediately.
- Also inspect pipes for damage in areas like attics and crawl spaces, where it is safe to do so.
- Never use torches or heat guns to facilitate thawing as these can create fire hazards.
- As temperatures increase above freezing, watch and listen for signs of water leaks.
- If there is pipe damage, call a licensed plumber for repairs
When using a portable generator, it is important to take precautions for your safety and the safety of those in your home. Follow these guidelines for safe generator use:
- Read the manufacturer’s safety and operating manual before using your generator.
- Never leave your generator running when you are away from your home or business.
- Check your generator regularly during operation.
- Use caution when touching your generator as many areas become hot and can burn you.
Be Sure Generator is Connected Correctly to Avoid Electrical Hazards
Electricity supplied by a generator has the same hazards as your regular utility-supplied electricity. You can face additional risks if your generator bypasses safety devices, such as circuit breakers, that are built into your electrical systems. Travelers recommends contacting an electrical contractor or the generator manufacturer for the proper installation of your generator.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for properly grounding your generator to help avoid electrical shock.
- Be sure your hands are dry and that you are not standing in water before touching the generator.
- Never plug your generator into a wall outlet.
- Plug appliances directly into the generator using manufacturer-specified cords or three-pronged extension cords with the proper amperage rating for the intended use.
- Be aware that portable generators become hot while running and remain hot for a significant amount of time after they are shut down, creating a potential fire hazard.
Never Operate a Generator Indoors
Generators should not be operated indoors, in garages or basements, or near windows, vents or doors. Your generator should be kept well away from your home or business. A minimum distance of 25 feet is recommended; however, you should check your local ordinances and the manufacturer’s recommended practices for additional information. Be sure to take your neighbors/neighboring businesses’ windows, vents and doors into account when positioning your generator. The exhaust from a generator can build up carbon monoxide (CO) – a colorless, odorless toxic gas – that can cause severe illness or even death.
- Maintain a clear space of three to four feet on all sides and above the generator to allow for proper ventilation.
- Help safeguard your home or business by installing battery-operated or plug-in/hard-wired with battery backup CO alarms. Be sure to routinely test them, and replace batteries as recommended by the manufacturer.
You should always use caution when refueling your portable generator. There is a risk of fire or getting burned because of the nature of the task. Follow these safety tips to ensure you properly refuel your generator.
- Shut down your generator and allow it to cool completely before refueling. Gasoline, kerosene or other fuels used to run generators can ignite if spilled on hot engine parts.
- Do not try to refuel a generator while it is running.
- Make sure all generator fuels are stored and transported in approved containers.
- Fuels should not be stored in or near your house or business. They should be stored in a separate, well-ventilated area or in an approved flammable liquids storage cabinet.
- Do not smoke around fuel containers or while refueling your generator.
Preparing for a Snow Storm
Finally, if you know there is a winter storm coming, take some time to gather the supplies you will need to ride out the storm at home, or to safely venture outside if you must.
- Make sure you have a snow shovel and ice melt to keep walkways clear and safe.
- Check that you have sufficient heating fuel for your home and fuel your generator, if you have one.
- If you will be using a fireplace or wood-burning stove, you should have a good supply of dry, seasoned wood.
- Have warm clothing and blankets on hand, and stock non-perishable food items and necessary medications to last you and your family for several days.
- If you start a wood-burning fire, follow all fireplace or woodstove safety precautions.
- Do not use an oven or a range as a home heating device.
- If using a generator, only use it outside, where there is sufficient ventilation.
- Test all smoke or carbon monoxide alarms to ensure they work properly.
- Don’t burn candles unattended, and keep them away from combustibles. Battery-powered LED lights are a safe, energy-efficient alternative to traditional candles.
- If you have an ice dam prevention system, turn it on before the snow starts to fall.
- Drive only if you absolutely must, and be sure your care is outfitted with snow tires and has adequate fuel and emergency supplies.
- If you shovel snow, know your limits and try not to overtax yourself.
- Protect yourself by wearing layers of warm, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing.
- Stay away from downed power lines.
- Keep your pets inside, or make other suitable arrangements for them.