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How to prep your home for the Freeze in Houston

December 21, 2022

Another round of freezing weather is headed our way and we know for many of you, this raises some concern. As we look back at February 2021 freeze, it’s important to note that the lack of power, not the cold weather alone, was the cause of many broken pipes. If your home is well heated and you take some basic precautions, all should be ok. Every home is different and most of our homes are not designed to withstand extended, freezing temperatures, so pay attention. 

Basic Preventative Tips

Step 1: Pre-Freeze

  1. Unhook all hoses from hose bibs. Hoses allow water to back up into pipes in exterior walls that are particularly vulnerable to freezing.
  2. Check insulation of all exposed exterior pipes. Your maintenance team should have completed basic winterization during a prior maintenance visit, but we encourage you to double check (certain, older maintenance plans did not include winterization and some new members may not have received this service yet). REMEMBER, if conditions are cold enough, long enough, insulation will only slow the freezing process – we can’t prevent it entirely if cold temps are sustained. 
  3. Drain your sprinkler system backflow preventor.  These junctions in your landscape irrigation system are notorious for freezing. Draining most of the water from them is simple, however, supply-side water will remain and is subject to freeze. As such, we recommend wrapping the entire structure with a blanket and some tape (don’t use duct tape if you want to use the blanket again). Also, if you have an extra old cooler, place the cooler upside down over the backflow to add a third layer of protection.   

Step 2: During the Freeze

  1. Open the cabinet doors below your sinks on exterior walls. If you have a plumbing fixture on an exterior wall (e.g., a sink under a window), open the under-cabinet doors to allow in the warm air from your home. Remove extra towels or anything that might inhibit the warm air from contacting your water pipes.  
  2. Allow faucets, showers, tubs, and hose bibs to drip. A small flow of water flowing through your lines can slow the buildup of ice in your pipes. This does not need to be scalding hot water – cold/room temp is fine – you are just trying to keep it above 32 degrees. And keep your eyes on the pressure. If the entire neighborhood does this, water supply may fall, and pressure may drop precipitously – just keep an eye out.

Tank Water Heater Worst Case Scenario

If temperatures are below freezing for an extended period AND you lose power, be ready to shut off your water and drain your pipes, but be THOUGHTFUL (there may be unintended consequences).

To shut off your water, there should be a valve on the side/front corner of the house (typically straight back from the city meter box). If you can’t find it, go to the street meter, and turn the water off there. A meter key makes this easy, but if you don’t have a meter key, watch this video which provides an alternative solution – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIJp8UOfnPI.  Next, drain your pipes by turning on every sink, faucet, and shower in the house until there is nothing left in them (don’t forget hose bibs). Note, do not close them after they are drained – leave them open.

Some things to keep in mind:

  1. Check for a recirculation pump – if you drain the water make sure you unplug the pump, so you don’t burn it out. If you do burn it out, it’s a $500-$1,000 replacement. All circulating pumps are different, so we suggest checking your owner’s manual.
  2. All tanked heaters are different – check your owner’s manual to see if other actions are required when turning off the water. If you don’t have a hard copy of the manual, Google the model number.

Tankless Water Heater Worst Case Scenario

Tankless heaters are tricky. They are expensive and finicky in the event of a freeze and failure. 

Priority one – keep water flowing through the unit (and your house) as long as possible with a steady drip.  If you lose power, still keep water running through the unit to prevent freezing. If an outage is going to last a while, try running an extension cord from the unit to your car to keep it running and warm.

If all else fails, it’s time to shut off your water, drain your house, and drain the unit.  You will need to check the manual (if you don’t have a hard copy of the manual, Google the model number) of your particular water heater to see how to drain the water completely from the unit to protect the water still in the units from freezing.     

To shut off your water, there should be a valve on the side/front corner of the house (typically straight back from the city meter box). If you can’t find it, go to the street meter, and turn water off there. A meter key makes this easy but if you don’t have a meter key, watch this video which provides an alternative solution – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIJp8UOfnPI.  Next, drain your pipes by turning on every sink, faucet, and shower in the house until there is nothing left in them (don’t forget hose bibs). Note, do not close them after they are drained – leave them open.

Turning the Water Back On

Assuming you have shut the water off, the freeze has passed, and you are ready to turn it back on, there is a proper sequence. First, all faucets and fixtures throughout your home (showers, sinks, tubs, hose bibs) should still be open, but if they are not, open them. Second, go outside and slowly turn the water on. With all the valves open throughout your home, there should be no pressure in the lines. Go back inside and turn them off one at a time – you might consider waiting 30 seconds at each fixture before you move on just to make sure there is no leaking. If you see evidence of a leak, re-open the valve and go back outside to turn off the water – then let us know and we will start working on a remedy.

You can turn the sprinklers back on yourself or if you have a yard service, ask them to. Test your system and check your sprinklers for pressure – a sprinkler head that doesn’t have much pressure may be a sign of a cracked pipe – let us know and we can help.

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