Winter: Preparation

PIPES: Freezing Pipes

Way beforehand (like now) wrap the pipes and insulate the foundation of the house. If you are using some sort of alternative heat, thisll help keep pipes from freezing. This isn't 100% (and it depends upon how cold it is), but it will help. If you think your electric's going off on January 1, 2000, consider having your water turned off so that the pipes don't freeze and burst. You can turn it on again if the power & heat situation are OK. Freezing pipes: There are probably shut-off valves throughout your house. You will shut those off all but where the water enters your house and to the portion of the house which is heated. If shut-off valves are not available throughout critical areas off your house, you may have them installed by yourself or a plumber at a comparatively low cost.

If caught in your unawares, you may allow a trickle of water to run continuously through out the pipes and that will keep the pipes open. We live in a house with a full basement where the water heater is. If it's really cold with no heat or water pressure, I could crack open every tap on every sink and then use the drain on the hot water heater to provide us with the 40 gallons in it as well as all of the water in our plumbing that could have otherwise caused broken pipes. Without water pressure, water trapped in your plumbing is the water you will most likely be drinking.

If we lose utility services, it will also be a good idea to cut off the street water pressure to your house. When service is returned, you will not be able to trust the water in most areas for some time. When city water service pressure is stopped, the system follows the law of gravity and feeds houses in lower areas with gravity feed. I like that, we live in a valley. The bad news is that this creates a vacuum on the higher areas in the system. With any leaks in the system, outside trash and contaminated ground water will be sucked into the water pipes. If these leaks in the water supply pipes happen to be near someone's spilled septic system, etc., you can imagine the outcome. This is why after hurricanes, earthquakes, etc., that people are told to boil the water after interruption of water services.

Getting back to the freezing problem, the elimination of the possibility of getting contaminated water siphoned into your house is a necessity. Shutting off the water utility service valve to your house will also help insure that your pipes will be drained properly. Be careful that any plumbing hidden in outside walls does not have pockets that trap water in low sections of the supply lines causing pockets of ice. Pockets in inside parts of the house are not a problem unless you allow the house to get below freezing.

Some people in situations without utility resources let their houses get really cold for fuel conservation. This technique is not only uncomfortable if carried out to the extreme, it can also contribute to freeze damage in areas that would otherwise be safe. If you have stored freezeable food in a pantry on an outside wall of the house, these things could freeze if the house is so close to freezing that not enough heat reaches these areas. I have also seen pipes in outside walls freeze when the core of the building was nearly 40 degrees but it was extremely cold outside.

SURVIVING THE COLD: During The Blizzard

A few winters ago we had no heat, electric or water that was safe for a total of 26 days. Part of the problem was the -20 degree temperature (before windchill was figured) and part was overloaded, or broken, non functioning pipes and electric lines. We lived in the city and could not get the 6 blocks to the grocery store!

We lived in the kitchen ( our bathroom was off the kitchen) and the dining room - we nailed blankets over the big doorway to the living room and closed off the bedrooms. On the side porch which was enclosed - we used the camp stoves and BBQ grill! with a bucket filled with water ( melted snow) to douse any stray flames. It was not fun, and ever since we have supplies to make our life a bit more bearable if it ever happens again ( it has but not quite as bad - maybe because we're ready? ;) We wore lots of layers of clothing and we were not toasty - but it was better than walking to a shelter!