How to prep your Austin home for a deep freeze
We know from the experience of 2021's snowpocalypse that it's no joke when Texas freezes over. Here are five essential things to do to prepare your home before the winter freeze arrives on Thursday.
1. FIND YOUR WATER SHUT OFF VALVE
Locate your city water shut off valve (aka your water main). This is usually located under a rectangular or circular cover near the city street, and it is often within 5' of your property line. Some property surveys may indicate the water main with a "WM" in a circle, but don't count on it. This image courtesy of ATX Scan gives you an idea of where to look.
When temperatures get cold enough and/or you lose power, you need to be prepared for the real possibility that your water pipes may freeze and then burst or leak as they thaw out. Leaks of this type can be severe and can quickly flood your home causing thousands of dollars in damage. If you have a leak you can stop it by turning off the water at the main city water line coming into your home.
Turning off your city water is not as simple as turning a knob. You will likely need a water shut off tool. A shut off tool may look similar to this one.
If you already have a water shut off tool, locate it and keep it within easy access. If you don’t have one, we recommend you purchase one to have on hand in the future. We ordered something similar on Amazon, and they also have them at home improvement stores like Lowe's. Some of the city water valves are deep below the surface, so a tool with a long handle is best.
If you don’t have a water shut off tool available, you can use a crescent wrench and a large screw driver that you slip through the hole in the top of the wrench handle to form a T. Channel locks may also work.
In the event your pipes do freeze, watch your walls, ceilings, floors, and sink/shower areas for potential leaks and wet spots as temperatures rise and the pipes begin to thaw. If you discover a leak, act quickly to shut off the water at the main water line at the street. This often requires turning the shut off valve 90 or 180 degrees.
Your valve may be rusted or difficult to shut off. If you have a water emergency, you can call Austin Water at 512-972-1000 to request an emergency shut off at your meter. However, in bad weather many city services, including Austin Water, experience a high volume of calls and there may be delays sending out a crew to assist. As a back up, you can try dialing 311.
If you are going to be away during the upcoming freeze, Austin Water recommends that you pre-emptively turn off your water at the meter.
IF YOU DO END UP WITH A WATER LEAK: Once the leak is (hopefully) under control, reach out to a plumber immediately to arrange for repairs. During peak times of need, most plumbers experience a significant backlog with long waiting lists. Get in queue as quickly as you can. If you don't have a trusted plumber, we recommend Melvin at S&D Plumbing. Next, contact your insurance company to see what coverage is available for any damage.
2. INSULATE ANY EXPOSED PIPES
Because water expands as it freezes, it can cause pipes to crack or burst. This most often happens to pipes that are exposed to extreme cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, and water sprinkler lines. Pipes in unheated areas of your home like your attic, garage, or cabinets are also susceptible to freezing.
If you have any exposed pipes in an unheated area, such as an attic or garage, wrap them in insulation to protect them from freezing. You can purchase styrofoam tubes similar to those shown above at most home improvement stores.While you are insulating your exposed pipes, also be sure to turn off your outside faucets, remove all hoses, and wrap the hose bib or faucets with towels or an insulator. Likewise, turn off and drain your automatic sprinkler system, and drain any water from your swimming pool supply lines.
3. DRAIN YOUR EXTERIOR WATER HEATER
Some of you may have a water heater on the outside of your home. We learned during the 2021 freeze that without electricity these exterior water heaters can freeze and burst.
There was such high demand for water heaters following the 2021 ice storm that some folks were without hot water for a very long time... As a precaution you may want to drain your exterior water heater in advance. We aren't licensed plumbers, so you should check the manufacturer recommendations for both your tanked and tankless water heaters.
4. OPEN CABINETS & LET THE WATER DRIP
The cabinets that hide the pipes under our sinks also keep warm air away from the pipes. When the temperatures plunge, we suggest that you open any cabinets below your faucets so that warm air circulates around the pipes.
If any of your faucets are located on an exterior wall, you may also want to leave those faucets on a slow drip so that water continues to move through them. Moving water is less likely to freeze. Place a pitcher or other receptacle under the faucet to capture the dripping water for future use; more on that below.
If you will be going away during the upcoming cold weather snap, Austin Water also recommends that you leave the heat on in your home set to a temperature no lower than 65° F.
5. STOCK UP ON SUPPLIES
Freezing temperatures are fine so long as you have working water and electricity, but when the water and the heat go out, it's no fun. If that happens you'll be glad that you proactively stocked up on necessary supplies. Here are some essentials to have on hand.
For starters, fill up pitchers, buckets, and containers, including the bathtub, with water. Make sure to collect some water in drink-safe containers as that is the water you will use for drinking and cooking if the water freezes. Austin Water suggests you have at least 1 gallon per person per day for at least 7 days.
Remember too that the toilets will not flush without running water, so you will also want some water available to manually fill the toilet tank. This is where the buckets and bathtub come in handy...
Make a run to the store and make sure you have crucial items on hand to get you through a few days without water or power, like:
- Snacks and foods that are shelf-stable,
- Salt or de-icer to help thaw the ice on steps and walkways,
- Flashlights and extra batteries,
- Pre-charged external batteries for cell phones and laptops,
- Any medications you, a family member, or pet may need,
- Pet food, and
- Wine, lots of wine (or in my case, whiskey).
If the power goes out, be sure to sign up for the City of Austin text updates so that you'll be alerted when the power is restored.
HOPEFULLY THESE ARE ONLY PRECAUTIONS!
Our fingers and toes are crossed that the electric grid stays up through this week's teen temperatures and that no one loses power or water. If you find yourself in need, please reach out. I'm not that handy, but I'm always eager to help where I can.
Stay warm. Stay safe. Stay healthy
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