While Georgia might not be facing winter weather as severe as places just to the north, a cold snap can still wreak havoc on plumbing, as many homeowners found out earlier this year during January when a deep freeze followed by a thaw left many homes flooded. But with a few precautions, residents can avoid costly home repairs brought from cracked and leaking pipes.
Rick Ingram, a fifth generation plumber with Better Plumbing Services, said the temperatures expected this weekend would probably not be enough to affect pipes in the basement; that requires a deep, sustained cold with temperatures below 20 F. Outdoor water fixtures, however, are the most vulnerable to freezing and cracking if not drained and cut off.
"Last year we were bombarded and that was the main thing - the hose bibs (outside faucet). That's the biggest thing in Georgia."
"The outside fixtures is what they need to look for right now," said Ingram. "They need to take the hoses off the outside faucets. Cut off (the water to the outside faucet) and lift the hose bib so the water drains out if it."
Owners can also purchase a styrofoam cover, commonly available in hardware stores and big box stores, to put on over the hose bib, or outdoor faucet, after detatching the hose and cutting off the water from inside.
Homeowners need to educate themselves about where the water cutoffs are in the house, said Ingram. "Most houses have cutoffs for the outside faucets under the kitchen sink, usually. If you have an (outside faucet) in the back of the house, usually the cutoff will be in the vanity bathroom."
"Most people don't know the main cutoffs are usually in your basement. If you don't have a basement, usually they're located near the water heater somewhere. There's a valve handle sitcking out of the wall. Most are red or blue."
Houses built to modern code don't have pipes running in outside walls, but older houses might.
"If you have any pipes that have frozen in the past in an outside wall, it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a space heater in the area," he said.
Additional precautions for the cold:
• Dress in layers and remember to cover the extremities, such as head, hands and feet.
• Be a good neighbor. Check with elderly or relatives and friends who may need additional assistance to ensure their safety.
• If using an emergency generator, follow the manufacturer's instructions; always operate emergency generators outdoors and away from any open window.
• Make sure your car is properly winterized. Keep the gas tank at least half-full. Carry a Winter Emergency Car Kit in the trunk including blankets, flashlight with spare batteries, windshields scraper, and jumper cables.
• Be careful driving on any roadways where moisture is present, as it could be ice or black ice.
With cold weather often leading to alternative methods of heating homes, here are some precautions:
• Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup.
• Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
• Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
• Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
• Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside your home.
For electric space heaters
• Space heaters need space. Keep items at least three feet away from each heater - in front, behind, above and below.
When buying a space heater, only buy one with a safety feature that automatically shuts off the power if the heater falls over, and that has been evaluated by a testing laboratory.
• Space heaters require a large amount of electricity. When using a space heater, do not plug anything else into the same outlet.
• Never leave space heaters unattended. Turn them off and unplug them when leaving the home or when going to bed at night.
To avoid carbon monoxide dangers
• Never use your range or oven to help heat your home and never use a charcoal grill or hibachi in your home or garage.
• Never keep a car running in a garage. Even if the garage doors are open, normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of CO.
• Install at least one carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal near the sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms.
• Check smoke alarms and practice a home escape plan.
The Rockdale County Fire and Rescue division will provide a free, new smoke detector and batteriesto anyone who requests one and will come out and install it. Fire personnel will also come and check detectors or provide batteries. For more information, contact the RCFR at (770) 278-8401.
Extra precautions during these extreme cold spells can also make sure your four-footed family members stay safe and warm.
• Keep pets indoors and warm: Pets are sensitive to severe cold, and they are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia when they are outdoors during extreme cold snaps. Exposed skin on noses, ears, and paw pads can quickly freeze and suffer permanent damage.
"The first thing we would strongly recommend is that you bring your dog or cat inside," said Rockdale County Animal Control Director Ciji Baker in a previous interview. But if that is simply not possible, "maybe set up a crate and put it in the garage; put plenty of blankets," said Baker.
If the dog is still kept outdoors, which is not illegal but not advised during cold weather, make sure the shelter is covered on three sides, dry, draft free and raised a few inches off the ground and put plenty of bedding materials for warmth, such as hay or cedar shavings or blankets, inside the dog's shelter.
"We've had calls all day from owners asking what they should do," he said. "We've had people in different neighborhoods donating hay to doghouses."
To contact the animal shelter for more information, call (770) 278-8403.
• Give your pets plenty of water: Pets who spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter because keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check your pet's water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal.
• Help neighborhood outdoor cats: If there are outdoor cats, either owned pets or community cats (ferals, who are scared of people, and strays, who are lost or abandoned pets) in your area, remember that they need protection from the elements as well as food and water. It's easy to give them a hand.
• Be careful with cats, wildlife, and cars: Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine.
• Avoid antifreeze poisoning: Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach. Coolants and antifreeze made with propylene glycol are less toxic to pets, wildlife, and family. Read more about pets and antifreeze.