Are You and Your Home Ready for the Cold?

Amber Randhawa Homeowner and Homebuyer Tips

Photo Credit: Aaron Burden @theaaronburden

Did you know that Atlanta has only had one white Christmas in the past 100 years? A white Christmas is declared only when at least one inch of accumulated snow falls, and in 2010 Atlanta saw a shocking 1.2 inches fall on Christmas Day. The last time the metro area saw such weather on Christmas was in 1882, so it would be safe to call this a once in a lifetime experience. The forecast for this weekend shows plenty of cold temperatures, but so far no measurable precipitation is called for. However, sub-freezing temperatures alone could be enough to cause unexpected cold weather damage around your home.

Ask anyone who has moved to the metro Atlanta area from a northern state and they will tell you – we don’t see many days of truly cold temperatures in Georgia. But for the few days where we do dip well below freezing, special measures need to be taken to keep your home safe from the unexpected consequences that can arise from drastically cold weather. And the fact that extended periods of time below freezing are so rare in Georgia means we often don’t think of taking all the measures necessary to keep our homes safe. In simple words, we are just out of practice at dealing with cold weather. Here are some tips to make sure that your house is well protected during our occasional cold snaps during the the winter in Atlanta.

Close Your House Up Tight

Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema @inky_pixels

Now is not the time to forget to close your garage for the evening. Every time you open up your garage doors you will be allowing cold air into your home, even with interior doors leading from the garage to the inside of your home closed. To keep the invading cold air at bay, minimize the number of times you enter and leave through your garage, and don’t open the garage door until right when you will be exiting. Close the door behind you as soon as possible. You may be tempted to leave the garage door open when you make quick trips to the store or to a neighbor’s house, but this will allow too much cold air in, so be sure to close the door even if only for a few minutes. This is even more important if you have any plumbing fixtures located in your garage, as this is where many people have their water heaters and or a shop sink. Also, if you have a bathroom or kitchen bordering your garage, those pipes will be more vulnerable to freezing if your garage is left open.

Another unintended consequence of leaving your garage open is that you are offering a warmer haven to neighborhood wildlife. You do not want to find out the hard way that raccoons or possums have made their way into your garage where they can make a mess of your trash and recycle bins. Stray cats may also take this opportunity to seek shelter inside your cars engine, which can have disastrous consequences when you next start your car. Which brings up another important piece of advice – if you park your car outside, give the hood a tap or two before you start it on cold mornings, just in case a neighborhood cat has sought shelter from the cold.

Protect Your Pipes

Photo Credit: Patrick Pahlke @p_pixels_p

Hopefully you have already taken steps to insulate your outdoor plumbing fixtures from the cold. This is normally a usual step you would take when you go through your annual home preparation process for winter. However, if you haven’t gotten around to doing this yet, you can still quickly take the necessary precautions. First disconnect and store any garden hoses, then turn off the water to your outdoor faucets. If you have a chance to pick up a foam faucet protector that’s ideal, but you can also wrap a towel around the faucet and secure it with duct tape. After all, whenever there is imminent freezing weather on the horizon, local stores tend to run out of such products.

When temperatures are below freezing, the pipes inside your home can freeze as well. It only takes about six hours for a pipe with water inside it to freeze and bust, which means this can easily happen overnight while you are sleeping. Plumbers recommend that you leave your faucets trickling for the entire time temperatures will be below freezing. This will keep standing water in the pipes from freezing. The pipes that are located along your homes exterior walls are especially vulnerable to freezing, so these should be your top priority. Make sure both the hot and cold lines are left running, and leave open any cabinet doors to provide more warm air to your pipes.

Find Your Water Shut Off Valve

Make sure you are aware of where your home’s plumbing shut off valve is located. If in spite of your best efforts a pipe in your home does freeze and burst, you will need to be able to turn the water off immediately. When you discover a busted pipe is not when you want to be hunting for the shut off valve. If the valve is located in a basement or garage, make sure nothing is blocking your way to it, so that it is easily accessible. Once you have located your valve, make sure it is functioning properly. Turning the handle all the way clockwise should shut off all water to your home. Make sure everyone who lives in your home knows where the valve is located so they can direct a plumber to it in the event of an emergency.

If you are unable to find the water shut off valve, or if you are unable to turn the valve, your next best bet will be turn the water off at the water meter. So, its a good idea to also make sure you know where your meter is located. Practice turning the water on and off at the meter so that you are able to do this in an emergency if needed. Next make sure you have your city or county water department’s phone number easily accessible. If you are in a situation where you need to turn the water off at the meter, you’re likely going to need to speak with your water authority about the leak and/or damage.

Pull Your Warm Clothes Out of Storage

Photo Credit: Andre Furtado @andrefurtado1979

With the temperate climate hear in Atlanta, some winters may pass you by without ever giving you a reason to dig out your heavy winter gear. In fact, many of us consider our winter clothing stash more of a collection for ski weekends and travelling rather than necessary seasonal clothing. That means that when we do see the temperature dip below freezing, you may not have packed away your shorts and dug out your heavy coat just yet. When you see the prediction for cold temperatures, go ahead and change out the items in your closet so that your cold weather clothes are easily accessible. That way you aren’t rushing to dig out your parka when its time to walk the dog on a chilly, 20 degree morning. Especially if precipitation is in the forecast, you’ll also appreciate having your warmest boots nearby.

When you pull out all of your winter weather wear, this is a great time to see if anything you have is no longer needed. If there are any coats that have been outgrown by your kids or if you have more than you’ll likely wear, consider donating to a local charity at this time, so that others who are less fortunate will be better able to handle the cold.

Stock Up on Batteries

Photo Credit: Claudio Schwarz @purzlbaum

All kinds of items you may need during a cold snap require batteries. If you were to loose power due to cold weather, you’ll need batteries for your flashlights and weather radios. Many thermostat displays also require batteries. Your gas and electricity could be flowing with no issues, but you will be incredibly frustrated if you do not have a fully functional thermostat simply because you have run out of batteries. Aside from these emergency needs, when kids are stuck inside with little to do during a cold snap, you may notice they are more likely to pull out older toys that haven’t been used much as of late. Many of those toys likely need fresh batteries, or will soon now that they are being used again.

Prepare Your Home to be Empty

If a cold front is headed toward Atlanta just as you are planning to leave, make sure you prepare your home to sit empty throughout the cold weather. Consider shutting the water off to your home completely since you will not be home to drip the faucets if needed. If you will be taking an extended trip, you may even want to drain your plumbing lines completely. This will help protect your pipes from freezing and busting while you are gone. A busted pipe can be a much bigger headache if you are not home to notice it immediately. Resist the urge to turn your thermostats down significantly lower in order to conserve energy. Now is not the time to worry about your gas bill! Keep your heat running anywhere from 65 to 68 while you are gone to protect your home from the freezing temperatures. If you have a programmable or smart thermostat, you can lower the temperature it is set at during the warmer hours of the daytime to save on energy costs, then raise the temperature again at night.