Winter Weather Maintenance And Safety Tips – Update

With the year winding down and some holiday downtime right around the course, I wanted to pass along some tips to help protect you and your home.

Things to do around the house:

Hose bibs can freeze in winter.
Hose bibs can freeze in winter.

Clean The Gutters: The leaves have almost finished falling and it has probably been some time since you have cleaned the gutters. I know it was for me and I noticed it when I went to put the Christmas lights up outside. Keeping your gutters clean prevents a couple of potential issues in the future. Blocked gutters do not allow water to flow easily around and will often cause them to overflow back towards the house. This is bad. The roof is designed to prevent water from coming inside by going down. Water going up is wide open for leaks. Blocked gutters also become a potential area for insects to make their way into your home. Some gloves and a ladder allow for easy access or there are some specialized tools for the job.

Wrap outside pipes: An ounce of prevention in this case will only cost you $1.18. In a hard freeze, outside pipes can freeze, expand, and break. Wrap outside pipes in Pipe Wrap Insulation and you shouldn’t have any problems. Rarely in Austin does the power go out during a winter storm but if it does and you do not have heat the American Red Cross advises, “Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent (interior) pipes from freezing.”

Trim Tree Branches: The standard rule for Oak trees is never trim them between January and June. Doing so makes your trees vulnerable to Oak Wilt. Also, trimming trees during a Central Texas summer is hot, sweaty work. I don’t recommend it. Bundle up and get it done now while you have some down time. Start by trimming away weak branches and anything near the roof or house. Weak branches can break and cause damage to your house. Branches and leaves touch the house or roof will cause damage in windy conditions and makes your home susceptible to insects.

Check Your Car Battery: Changes in weather often cause a dying battery to completely die. Before you get stuck somewhere, check the age of your battery, or have an auto parts store test it for free. Do not get stuck knocking on neighbors’ doors for a jump. An ounce of prevention will not ruin your day like getting stuck somewhere.

Check Your Tire Pressure: As the temperature changes from hot to cold, the pressure in your tires will often change with it. Driving around with improperly inflated tires is a huge safety risk and will wear your tires out more quickly.

Check Your Chimney: If you are anything like my wife and I, you had your first fire in the fireplace when the weather turned a brisk 60 degrees. If you have not looked at your fireplace and chimney in a while, grab a flashlight and do a quick visual inspection. Be sure that the flue is not blocked with a bird’s nest or leaves, no branches have grown above the chimney, and nothing is crumbling or looks broken. If something does not look right, please call a professional.

Caulk Is Your Friend: Re-sealing around your doors and windows is a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to make your home more efficient. You would be surprised by how much conditioned air you are losing around your windows due to old caulking. Caulking also prevents water from coming in which will start to rot your windowsills and prevent mold. A bonus from the pandemic, almost all of us have rubber gloves standing around. Glove Up and caulk your windows.

More Tips from the Texas Department of Public Safety

Make sure you have the following basic emergency supplies on hand in preparation for a winter weather event:

  • One-week supply of non-perishable food, one gallon of bottled water per person per day, coolers for food and ice storage
  • Credit cards and cash (banks and ATMs may not have power)
  • Battery-operated radio, NOAA Weather Radio and extra batteries or hand crank radio, cell phones and chargers
  • First-aid kit, seven-day supply of prescription medications, copies of prescriptions, special medical items, hearing aids and batteries, eyeglasses
  • Manual can opener, knife, tools, booster cables, fire extinguisher, duct tape, tarp, rope, flashlight with extra batteries
  • Supplies for babies, the elderly, family members with special health care needs, and food and supplies for pets

Remember animals are particularly vulnerable to extreme outdoor elements. Do NOT leave your pets exposed to the cold during a winter weather event. If you have outdoor pets, ensure they are properly protected from the cold by bring them indoors or providing other adequate shelter.

If heavy ice on power lines cuts utility service, be extremely careful using generators or gas-powered equipment. Carbon monoxide (CO) is invisible, odorless, and deadly. It can build up in a matter of minutes. Do not use generators, charcoal grills or gas grills inside the house, garage, or enclosed space. Do not try to heat the house using a gas range or oven.

Winter Weather Vehicle Safety

Keep the following emergency supplies in your vehicle in case you encounter winter weather on the road:

  • Blankets/sleeping bags and extra clothing, mittens, and hat
  • Cell phone, radio, flashlight, extra batteries
  • First-aid kit and pocketknife
  • High calorie, non-perishable food, bottled water
  • Sack of sand or cat litter for de-icing roadway
  • Windshield scraper, tool kit, booster cables, tow rope and shovel

After The Storm

Here are some safety tips for keeping you and your family safe as you wait for power to be restored:

  • NEVER operate generators and other fuel-powered devices inside a home or an enclosed space, such as a garage. Unsafe practices could result in a build-up of deadly carbon monoxide fumes. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. If anyone in your home experiences these symptoms, step outdoors, ventilate the area and dial 9-1-1.
  • Report power outages. Turn off electrical appliances that were operating at the time power went off, including your heating system. Leave one light on to alert you when service is restored.
  • Power lines weighted with ice may be down or touching other objects, an extremely dangerous situation. Contact with power lines can charge cables, chain link fences and even tree limbs with electricity. Power lines can electrify a fence line throughout an entire neighborhood. Contact your power company for assistance.
  • Many people are injured each year by falling tree branches after any kind of severe storm. Ice storms are no exception. Heavy ice can make tree limbs and trees themselves unstable. Be safe. Wait until the thaw and call a tree care specialist.
  • Refrain from driving on icy roads. If you must travel, drive slowly, and increase your stopping distance. Watch for downed trees and power lines across roads. If power fails, treat all intersections as four-way stops. Pack blankets, water, food items and a phone to take with you.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby and be cautious with fire. Keep candle flames at least three feet away from cardboard, wood, and other combustible objects. Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets and extinguish flames before leaving a room or falling asleep.

Stay safe and have a great holiday season!