How To Prepare for the Next Freeze in Houston

So, if what the weather experts told us earlier this year is accurate, we shouldn’t see another freeze like the one we had in February for another 500 years.

How often are the weather experts correct?

During the “big freeze,” most homeowners’ biggest mistake was not taking the warnings seriously enough and not being prepared. It wasn’t only homeowners that weren’t prepared. The State of Texas and its energy suppliers found out the hardest way possible that ignoring essential maintenance and winter preparation will always end badly.

While the odds are genuinely slim that we will face another deep freeze this winter season, the saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” still resonates deeply with Texans. Staying on top of maintenance in our homes is extremely important, especially as we head into the “colder” months in south Texas. It only takes a couple of hours of temperatures dropping below 32 degrees before exposed plumbing to freeze. Water supply lines are pressurized, and a single burst line can dump hundreds of gallons of water every hour into your home. 

It may not be possible to protect one’s home from weather-related disasters fully, but a few simple steps can eliminate many potential problems.

  • Insulation, Insulation, Insulation!

Did somebody mention insulation? Having adequate insulation in walls, above ceilings, and attics is the first step anyone can take to ensure their home is both efficient and ready for the onset of winter. The older your home is, the more likely it is that you’ll need to supplement the insulation in those key areas where the air is expected to leak in. Many of the historic homes around Houston built in the early 1900s have insulation that has broken down, could be moldy, and probably needs to be replaced. 

Poorly insulated homes are more likely to suffer from a burst water line or other broken plumbing fixtures. Without adequate insulation at plumbing line entry points and along the length of exterior facing walls, your pipes are at a significantly higher risk for freezing. 

The most common type of insulation in homes is the fiberglass batt-and-roll variety, made up of soft layers of glass fibers with an adhesive paper backing. The insulation rolls out at the perfect width for installation between standard-spaced studs and roof beams. Batt-and-roll insulation is usually stapled in place before drywall is installed in new homes and renovation projects and is impossible to install post-construction without replacing most of your sheetrock walls.

Loose-fill or blown-in insulation is easily installed into existing walls, as it is made of small fiber particles, bits of foam, recycled newspaper, and other light, breathable materials. Currently, most new construction homes have loose-fill insulation in their attics, as it fills in gaps and corners thoroughly.

  • Insulate Your Pipes.

The key to not experiencing a plumbing emergency caused by frozen pipes is not to allow your pipes to freeze. You need to have a “by any means necessary” approach to preventing frozen pipes not just inside your home but any outdoor pipes directly exposed to the elements as well.

Every home improvement store sells tubular foam insulation that installs around your exposed plumbing to help retain heat. Use plastic tie wraps or duct tape to set them in place, as not securing them may see them blown off by strong winds when they’re most needed. In a Google search of foam pipe insulation prices, I was able to find name-brand examples selling for as low as $2.67 for a 6-foot length. Don’t worry about removing the pipe insulation when winter is over; leaving them in place will help keep your water cooler during the peak summer months.

  • Drain Your Sprinkler System Backflow Preventer.

Freezing temperatures can quickly cause damage to a “non-winterized” sprinkler system, as some water remains in its pipes unless completely drained. Draining the backflow preventer on your sprinkler system will eliminate the standing water in the pipes. There’s less risk of frozen water expanding in the lines by eliminating the leftover water, creating leaks. Leaving the backflow preventer valves open allows any condensation that collects in the pipes to escape.

Getting your sprinkler system ready for the winter is simple, and you can do it yourself in five minutes with just a flat-head screwdriver. First, turn off the controller for your sprinkler system, then locate the backflow preventer and use the valve handle to turn off the water supply.

Locate the two bleeder valve set screws on the side of the backflow preventer and turn each one approximately one-quarter of a turn – so that the screw slot is parallel to the pipe – which will release a spray of any standing water from within the backflow preventer. So don’t stand directly in the path of the bleeder valves; you’re going to get wet.

That’s all it takes to get your sprinkler system ready for the freeze. 

Drain and Put Away Garden Hoses

While we’re on the topic of outdoor plumbing fixtures, please do not forget to disconnect, drain, and put away your garden hoses. Leaving a garden hose connected to an outdoor spigot during a freeze almost guarantees you’ll be calling somebody to repair it. Frozen hoses force water to back up into the hose bibb (or spigot), causing that fixture to burst, thanks to the expanding liquid.

Unsure if an outdoor spigot has burst?

Trust us, you’ll know as soon as the temperatures go up enough to thaw it out. Be sure you know where the shutoff valves are for any outdoor water fixtures. If you have a PEX plumbing manifold, you can usually turn off the flow to any outdoor fixtures individually or in groups. Most PEX manifolds are labeled to indicate which lines flow to which appliance or fixture.

Sometimes, despite the best planning and prevention, bad things still happen.

Before the cold weather sets in, be sure you know where your main water supply shutoff valve is located and how to turn it off. Can’t find the shutoff valve? Not sure if your home’s plumbing is ready for the winter weather? Give Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning a call today and schedule a plumbing inspection to assess how you can expect your plumbing to perform this winter. 

Call Nick’s Today; We’re on the Way!

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