Cold weather tips for keeping your home safe

With temperatures dropping into ranges we aren’t accustomed to around here it’s time to review what should be done when it gets below freezing:

If you can, turn the main water supply to the house off and drain the  system from the lowest point and flush the toilets. Leave the cabinet doors open on any sink that is on an exterior wall. Remove any attached hose pipes from exterior bibs, etc.  Also, to put insulation around an exterior faucet you can improvise using a towel wrapped around and secured with a plastic bag and either tape or a heavy duty rubber band.

Also, here for our wood burning fireplace property owner readers, posted with permission from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, are tips and issues to know about burn bans:

New law prompts significant change to residential burn bans Where there’s chimney smoke, there’s fire — and fines

November 24, 2008 — A new burn ban season is upon us and this one will be different from those in past falls and winters.

  • The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency will be calling both Stage 1 and Stage 2 burn bans, often in sequence.
  • Stage 2 burn bans are more restrictive than the more familiar Stage 1 burn bans and ban ALL wood burning, even from certified wood stoves and pellet stoves.
  • Our Puget Sound region will likely have longer burn bans, and perhaps more of them.
  • And more fines may be issued for people violating the bans.

What is prompting this change?

First, in late 2006, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tightened the 24-hour health standard for fine particle pollution, also known as PM2.5. And earlier this year, our Washington State Legislature lowered the air-quality trigger for calling a burn ban to align with this new EPA standard.

The reason for these actions is to better protect public health because the soot and smoke that makes up these fine particles are associated with serious health effects. The tiny size of these pollutants allows them to be easily inhaled, bypassing the immune system and proceeding deep into the lungs, where they can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems, including premature death.

So what’s this mean if you heat your home with wood or pellet fuel?

During a burn ban, we’re basically asking people to rely on their home’s other, cleaner source of heat (such as their furnace or electric baseboard heaters) for a few days until air quality improves, the risk to public health is diminished and a ban is cancelled.

If agency inspectors observe a burn ban violation, they will issue a Notice of Violation to the property owner and recommend a $1,000 penalty.

The rules for a Stage 1 burn ban are the same as in the past:

  • No burning is allowed in wood-burning fireplaces, uncertified wood stoves or fireplace inserts, unless this is your only adequate source of heat.
  • No visible smoke is allowed from any wood stove or fireplace, certified or not, beyond a 20-minute start-up period.
  • All outdoor burning is prohibited, even in areas where outdoor burning is not permanently banned.

When a burn ban goes to Stage 2:

  • NO burning is allowed in ANY wood-burning fireplaces, wood stoves or fireplace inserts (certified or uncertified) or pellet stoves, unless this is your only adequate source of heat. Natural gas and propane stoves or inserts ARE allowed.
  • All outdoor burning is prohibited, even in areas where outdoor burning is not permanently banned.
  • If our agency inspectors see any smoke being emitted from a chimney during a Stage 2 burn ban, they can assume a fireplace, wood or pellet stove is in use and a penalty is warranted.

Maybe you’re wondering what “adequate source of heat means.

22 thoughts on “Cold weather tips for keeping your home safe

  1. Let me get this straight, you are recommending homeowners to turn off the water to their house and drain the system when the temperature gets below freezing??

  2. I think that draining the entire house is for unoccupied homes without heat. Although the leaving the doors open on cabinets is probably a good idea otherwise if it’s cold enough outside.

    I just discovered something new yesterday from a neighbor on one of my listings. It’s a newer house, and the exterior faucet on the garage didn’t have an obvious shut off. That is something everyone should look for because those long runs on exterior faucets are prone to freezing. Usually such a shut off is inside the garage several feet away from the faucet.

    The listing house is only about 5 years old, but that faucet had already been damaged and replaced in the past, presumably from freezing. The neighbor not only pointed out the location of the shutoff (near the water main shut off), but also a little knob, about as big as a pencil eraser, on the side of the shut off valve. Once the water is shut off, unscrewing that knob and removing a rubber seal allows that part of the system to drain. Just covering something without removing the pressure won’t provide any protection on a long run like that (which is why I asked a neighbor about it). And if you shut off the water without removing the pressure, it will make matters worse (because ice expands).

  3. The suggestion of draining pipes is for empty houses. Often, as agents, we have clients who have already moved out of a home and it is on the market without anyone there to check that it is in okay condition. It helps to take preventive measures.

  4. Thanks for the clarification Reba. If you do have a client with a vacant house, definitely give them a call for a heads up on the weather and potential consequences.

    Unfortunately most homes plumbing systems were not designed to drain. Often the best you can do is turn the main off and open multiple faucets, low spots will still retain water that can freeze. Even if you do have a drain and you failed to crack open the faucets there will be water left in the system.
    Uninsulated crawl spaces are death to plumbing if it gets real cold with no heat source A vacant unheated house is asking for trouble and keeping the heat on is always preferable in my opinion.

    Kary, while not an official plumber I do have experience with both pvc and copper pipes. I’m up in Whatcom County and the wind blows down the Fraser River. 21 degrees this am with 20-25 mph winds.
    Copper can endure freezing and can be thawed if caught in time. Pvc is not so forgiving and usually shatters. Pvc can be much easier to repair though so it can be a trade-off. I haven’t had the luxury of freezing up the newer Pex style of flexible plastic, but am told it is flexible enough to freeze hard without breaking.

  5. One thing about this sort of thing, the house hit might be the one you least expect.

    Last year during that extreme rain downfall, the house that had trouble was the one I didn’t worry about at all! It was built on a hill, so I didn’t think flooding would be a problem.

  6. Very timely post! I just informed my clients to do the same to prepare for the recent cold spell. Keeping the heat on is another option… although a bit more costly.

  7. Greg,

    And yet if they are trying to sell the property, the buyer being freezing cold during the showing can distract their attention from proper consideration of the homes best features. How much might it cost them not to have the heat on?

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