'Tis the season to get your home prepared. That's why Gina Brown is taking precautions now, before it's too late.
"We have had problems in the past, not with heating but with bursting pipes and things like that," Brown said.
Whether you're hiring a pro, or doing it yourself, there are a few things you need to do now.
Thomas Moreno with Abacus Plumbing, Air Conditioning & Electricalsaid, "We start getting a lot of calls, from people that want to do preventive maintenance and just want to beat the freeze."
He advises homeowners to go around and inspect their pipes. If the wrapping is disintegrating, or not covered at all, this is the week to take action.
"The basic tool that you'll need is just the foam insulation. Duct tape or electrical tape, and a box cutter to cut the insulation," Moreno said.
If the conditions are right, exposed pipes could freeze. So you want to make sure they're covered. Besides the main water line, a foam housing can be used to cover exterior water spigots. Also, make sure your irrigation system is protected.
Moreno says it's best to drain the sprinkler system. The metal housings are most vulnerable in cold weather if left exposed. "It will ultimately freeze the PVB that's brass, and that will crack and leak everywhere."
Moving indoors, when was the last time your heating system was serviced?
According to HVAC tech Matthew Lynskey, "The worst time for a system to go down would be of course during the holidays or a really cold night."
He says you should have your heating system serviced once a year.
"I'm looking for the temperature between the air that's coming in and the air going out -- make sure we have complete combustion," Lynskey explained.
Carbon cleaning and safety checks are also performed, which is why it's advised to call in the pros for this type of work. Bottom line, prep now so you won't have to pay more down the line.
Homeowner Winter & Home Safety Checklist
Following are some of the most common and important preventative maintenance "to do's" every Houston homeowner should do to keep their home safe and warm.
Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Systems
Test your furnace now, before the extremely cold air arrives. It's always recommended that you hire a state licensed HVAC company to conduct the inspection. And you should look for a contractor who is accredited and in good standing with the Better Business Bureau. Check their ratings and reviews as well. Your furnace inspection should include:
-Check for carbon monoxide leaks
-Test the thermostat
-Test the control (circuit) board and capacitor start components
-Check the pressure safety switch
-Check the flue vent and gas valve
When you turn the heat on in your home for the first time, expect a slight burning smell from the accumulation of dust that burns off coils. This smell should dissipate within a few minutes. If it does not, or if you notice an increase, call 911, as there may be an electrical problem.
Beyond fire danger, that build up in the furnace can block air flow, causing potentially high levels of carbon monoxide.
HVAC Energy Efficient Upgrades:
-If you have an older thermostat, replace it with a programmable unit to save on heating costs both during the winter and summer
-If your attic insulation is 10 years or older, consider having it replaced with blown-in insulation and consider radiant barrier to dramatically lower heat loss during the winter and heat gain during the summer.
Keep three feet of clearance around your furnace:
-You need at least about three feet of space around any gas, generators or other electrical appliances.
-Keep flammable materials or liquids away from hot appliances
-Clothes and household items, such as brooms, that are near the furnace can initiate a fire
-Move boxes, storage items and paper products
Change Your Air Filter(s)
The filter is basically the lifeblood of any cooling or heating unit so don't put off replacing it, which you can do on your own. It's recommended that you change a 1-inch filter about every 30 days. Higher quality filters can stay in the system for about 6 months.
The two most common problems in the home during the winter are fire hazards and carbon monoxide leaks.
-Both of these can be deadly, and both frequently begin as small problems that can easily be detected in the course of a furnace inspection or tune-up. In addition:
-Never light your furnace or water heater with a candle
-Don't hide cords from portable heaters under rugs
-Do not to use extension cords with space heaters
-Use only heavy-duty extension cords if necessary
-Never overload an extension cord (think "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation")
Windows and Doors
-Check weather stripping to prevent heat loss
-Check for drafts around windows and doors. Caulk inside and out, where necessary, to keep heat from escaping.
-Inspect windows for cracks, broken glass, or gaps. Repair or replace, if needed.
Outdoor Winter Checklist for Homeowners
-Remove attached hoses and store for the winter
-Wrap outside faucets with insulation material (available at local home improvement stores)
-Shut off exterior faucets
-Drain water from outdoor pipes, valves, and sprinkler heads to protect against pipe bursts
-Inspect outdoor lighting around the property
-If there are problems with holiday lighting such as shorts or flickering, you should contact a licensed electrician to assess the problem
-Fireplace and Smoke Alarms
-Check your fireplace for any drafts.
-If fireplace is still cold even if the damper is closed, the damper may be warped, worn, or rusted.
-Check that smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order
-Flush your hot water heater tank to remove sediment and check the pressure relief valve to make sure it's in proper working order (hire a licensed plumber for best, safest result)
-If your water heater is seven to ten years or older have a licensed plumber inspect it and consider replacing it. Most water heaters breakdown after eight years. Annual maintenance is highly recommended.
Tips to keep your vehicle safe during cold weather
Don't forget about your vehicle. You'll want to take a good look at your vehicle now so that it will be able to safely get you from point A to point B next week.
The single most important thing to pay attention to, according to the experts, is anti-freeze. Top it off if it's too low, or take it somewhere to have it checked. You don't want to be caught in the cold without it. You might have your battery tested to make sure it will have the ability to start your vehicle in the cold. You don't want to be stuck somewhere in the cold with a dead battery.
Mechanics urge drivers to remember that the frigid temps will mean reduced inflation in your tires. So check them now or have them checked, too. That'll help ensure better traction if things get icy or wet.
Experts say you should also look at your windshield wipers. If they're not wiping smoothly across your windshield, it's probably time to replace them so you can see when you need to.
"You always just want to check everything. Like anything you know this thing is going to get your from point A to point B. Check everything on the vehicle, just make sure that its safe. You got family on the road. You got yourself on the road. Just make sure that you're ready," said Gilbert Garcia at River Oaks Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Ram.
The Texas Department of Public Safety suggests keeping a number of things inside your vehicle just in case:
-Blankets/sleeping bags, extra clothing, gloves, hat.
-Cell phone, radio, flashlight extra batteries.
-First-aid kit and pocket knife.
-High calorie, non-perishable food and bottled water.
-Bag of sand or cat litter to provide traction for tires.
-Windshield scraper, tool kit, booster cables, tow rope and shovel.