Coping: Winter Storm Preps, Again

Prepping:  Here we go again:  The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory for our area.  The weather, starting tonight, could be downright crappy for a couple of days.  Cold as hell, especially.

By the forecast, we will get a spot of rain starting this afternoon.  Not normally a bad thing by itself.  But it’s character changes when one of those winter storms comes barreling down from the northwest.  That will freeze the rain on the ground and turn whatever falls next it into ice and/or snow.

This “wintery mix” (which we take to mean the weather-geeks aren’t what form it will take…) will fall off and on though Tuesday.  High tomorrow may not raise above freezing. So, it’s useful to review our “winter storm preps” because it’s always better to be over-prepared  than under.  Since storms tend to move east from here, this might be useful to lots of folks.

(Continues below)


This prepping discussion we hope is timely because the last time-around, the cold-smack here moved east and turned Atlanta white and even down into Florida got the “wintery mix.”

Setting Up the Plan

This is the part where you ask “What could possibly go wrong?

  1. You pipes could freeze, burst, and make one helluva mess.  Water damage and the joy of working on plumbing in freezing conditions.
  2. Your power could go out and leave you cold and miserable – and then the pipes break on thawing or along the way.
  3. Snow and ice accumulations on horizontal surfaces can ruins things, too:  Snow removal ideas and supplies are in order.  Especially consummables (rock salt and whatever) that you’ve been meaning to resupply one of these days.

Our Version of a Winter Storm Plan

Plumbing supplies:  Check that you know where the pot of “hot-set PVC glue” is – along with that purple primer for PVC pipe.

Turn up the House temps:  Thanks to all our recent experiments and observations using that non-contact thermometer, we know exactly where our “weaknesses” are.

One (since we live in a double-wide modular) is that the ventilation holes in the foundation (rock and concrete) under the house may be temporarily closed off.  We could remain below freezing for much longer than usual.  This increases odds of failure.

Our logic here is simple:  We know that the house is fine (as is) for temps down into the 18F range.  BUT, we don’t know how long it could hold at those temps.

The easiest way to ensure that things go well is to simply cut a number of 12-by-18-inch hunks of plywood and some 2–by’s on a 45-degree angle to wedge them in place.

The foundation about the gym/guest quarters is distributed in nature. So we don’t have handy “ports” to cover like those around the house foundation.  The good news is that we blew all of our leaves (100-tractor buckets worth) into a huge pile that will “cook down” to garden food, over time.  But a few buckets of leaves both around the foundation and heaped up on the water pipes (already in 6″ PVC, stuffed with styro peanuts and wrapped with big plastic garbage bags) will be served a bucket, or two.

Elaine will drain the hoses while I’m banking up the foundation with mulch material.

With the air circulation under the house momentarily cut to almost nothing, the odds of having pipes freeze should decrease.

Then, as we bump up the normal house temperature a couple of degrees, it becomes pie-simple engineering. (We hope!  Knock on wood!)

The house is heated by under floor insulated metal ducting from our (slightly over-sized) HVAC unit and this “leaks some heat” into the unheated crawl space.  Solves the under-house freezing issue, we hope.

Hot Water Checklist

As the bitter cold lays in tomorrow morning when I get up (and by then it will likely be snowing) I’ll start my 3-hour rotation of turning on every hot water faucet in the house and in the guest quarters/gym.

In the GQ, for example, the hot and cold water pipes run fairly close together.  Since heat migrates, the radiative heat from the hot water pipes will tend to keep the inside of the walls warmer.  Many places, we installed the piping in close proximity for this very reason.

The Power Outage Plan

We have a fair bit to do on this aspect.

The 3-by-4 cards with the power company outage reporting number all get set out:  One by each phone. That’s four locations in the house and 2 locations in the office/gym/shop.

We also understand that in the event of a power failure, the cordless phones won’t stay up forever, so we have corded phones for each location.  They’re less convenient, but more reliable.  This is when reliable counts more than the speakerphone feature.

(Often, just setting out the cards seems to prevent power outages.)

Ready the Back-up Systems

We don’t live in an area cold enough to justify moving a 55-drum of drinking water to a semi-heated area.  But, if we lived much more north of here, that would certainly be on the agenda.  Particularly because when you break a pipe, the water goes off for a good while…maybe a day or two.

We have the toilet tanks, although Elaine is more civilized so she will have several large pots full of water sitting on the stove.

Unlike most people, we actually have a back-up heating source:  It won’t be as toasty as the $10,000 mega heating and cooling system, but we certainly won’t freeze to death, either.

The double-wide (before our radical makeover) came with a 6,500 BTU ventless propane fireplace.  Since part of our makeover was double-glass everywhere (except in the sun room, which is where a lot of the single-glaze was recycled to), 6500 BTU will keep the place comfortable.  In a couple of rooms, anyway.

When we bought this place (converting to all-electric for normal times) we kept the 500 gallon propane tank which is still full.  One of these days, I will get the transfer hoses, so we can burn some off in the BBQs.  In the meantime, we’re ready for the Maunder Minimum (or nuclear winter), right now.

That is, if we do a few other things, like shut down the music/studio which is designed to “go cold” if necessary.  This is was all part of the plan having no plumbing or heating ducts in there for this very reason.  (Another was acoustic dampening of HVAC ducting to stop air tumble was another reason, but you see how this dance works?)

A lot of people don’t think when doing “redesign” about the subtle aspects, but falling-back is an art that everyone should consider.

The music studio is, by the way, the “tightest” room in the house.  It’s our “fall-back from fallout” room.  Being tight (like floor/sidewall plasterboard joints being caulked for acoustical control), it’s the ideal place to toss in controlled air filtration if Kid Korea really does go nuts and the jet stream doesn’t favor us with a more northerly track (though it usually does).

Back to heating; the other plumbing stack to maintain heat on is the guest quarters/gym.  For this, a catalytic heater (5,000 BTU) on a 20 pound propane bottle is ready.  While not my favorite thing to use indoors, will at least prevent freezing.  And yes, the CO2 detector that used to live under the front seat of the airplane will see service if this comes about.  Battery check on that, too.

Communications?  Oh, yeah. Totally:  We will have four 2-meter hand-helds (walkie-talkies) all charged up.  Tonight, on the local repeater Monday Night Social Net, we’ll probably talk about planning and such, too.

We have three Wi-Fi networks and they should be up for an hour or two – which would be long enough to post an update on the web sites.  I will have my laptop fully charged and Elaine’s just got a new ultra-extended battery pack.  The satellite link is the only question (it’s a big touchy on deep cloud-coverage days, but it’s on backed-up power, too.

We also have the big battery bank and 110 volt (sine wave) power from the solar and stacked inverters.  But that’s for REAL emergencies – like my office.  It can feed VHF and HF radios, pull down satellite passes direct for the polar orbiting birds, scan fire and police, power one server, two Wi-Fi’s monitors and such for about 48-hours.

Then it will all fall back to two UPS units – which have fresh batteries.

Fine point:  When was your last load & time test on your UPS?  4-months here…

A bit of prepping to do?  Sure…always is.  We’re not ready this 5-minutes, but in an hour or two?  Sure.  A major winter storm is nothing to fear…if you get ahead of it and prep a bit.

Done right, I might get Elaine to throw together a pot of her amazing clam chowder.

Another key point:  Nothing makes you feel better in adverse conditions than comfort food.  Some are especially well-suited to cold weather.  Soups, stews,  hearty soups and chowders.

Fresh-baked bread, pizza to keep the oven tossing off heat or a few dozen double-chocolate chip cookies.  At this rate,  we get thinking about a cup of hot cocoa with large a shot of peppermint schnapps in it….

Bring ‘er on Ma Nature!  The Ure’s can hardly wait.

Write when you get rich (or warm),

22 thoughts on “Coping: Winter Storm Preps, Again”

  1. North Central Arkansas here, same story on the weather tho. Last year I moved the HF and VHF to solar and batteries. Going to take my chances and leave the antennas up.

    Generator is ready, test every month or so.

    Something to think about, we have a pellet stove for most of our heating needs. Well insulated 1200 SQ FT ranch. Believe it or not the power required to operate is only 375 watts. Very minimal for 40k BTU’s of heat. Bonus, buy pellets by the skid and they don’t go bad either.

    • You can save a lot of money if you use shelled corn instead of wood pellets. Probably a violation of federal law in your “free country” but in Nebraska I never saw a shop stove that was not fueled by corn.

      • Hi EE..I picked up on you being from Nebraska at some point of time. I live 90 miles West of Omaha. Any chance of this Midwester assimilating into Ecuador culture?
        I’m not a “newbie” to living/working off the shelf of USA.


      • Up to $ 3 shelled corn can be a substitute for pellets. Better if you can get contaminated corn. Stuff from the ground, ETC.
        Corn needs to be cleaned before it can be used in a pellet stove. Spilled corn takes some work to prepare it. See Youtube.

      • FYI,you can’t run corn thru a wood pellets stove.the stove will gunk up.they make corn stoves if you want to use corn.

  2. Not sure about letting the ‘hot water’ dribble – I grew up when the PNW was colder, and more snowy than now and we let the ‘cold water’ drip. (I remember snow blowing in through cracks in the window frame and building up inside on the window ledge.) The reason (or thought) was ‘why waste the money . . .

    Had an old ‘octopus’ furnace built for sawdust converted to oil. (The interior was so inspiring that while I was learning about ‘hell’ in school – I thought about that amazing old monster.)

    We also didn’t have any insulation, but then the price of oil was only sixteen cents per gallon!!

  3. Pipes burst from freezing because the water freezes and blocks the pipes at two points with water between. When that water, trapped in a contained space freezes and expands, it bursts the pipe. The old pioneer trick was to leave the faucets running at a trickle. The moving water not only kept the temperature up, but also kept the pressure off so pipes could actually freeze solid and not burst.

  4. Is your car exposed to the elements? Do you sometimes shut off the car with the wiper switch on? If your wipers freeze to the windshield and the motor is turned on, you may need a new motor.
    Some people lift their wipers off the windshield if ice or snow is expected during a long period of car inactivity. Others buy windshield covers. Others make sure that their wipers are turned off before leaving the vehicle.
    A few moments ago, I looked out the window. I couldn’t see across the street. Localized snow squalls are so much fun.

    • Cars – my regular winter storm prep is to cover the windshield with a tarp and bungee it down. It also wraps around enough to cover the driver & passenger windows. Don’t understand why more folks don’t do this. Sure beats having to defrost/unfreeze all the windows.

      JD – North Alabama

  5. Local branch of the University of Tennessee at Martin, Tennessee has used ammonium nitrate to melt snow/ice on the sidewalks for at least the last 40 years. They have a wide spacious campus with award winning landscaping, and therefore do not want to “poison” the soil with salt. I have used the same material (since I farm, I can buy in bulk), and it works great. Upside to this material is little to no damage to concrete, unlike salt. Downside,is that the grass will grow like mad in the spring wherever the water runs off from the application site.

    On the electricity side of things, big boy toys are nice. I have welder/generator for the farm that puts out 11,000 watts. This will support the blower system on the gas HVAC, run the well pump for water, and keep the freezers running. Ice storms are our biggest problem in West Tennessee, they take down the power lines. Generator/welder is on a service trailer that can be pulled up next to our electric service entrance and simply plugged in via the already installed heavy duty outlet. Pull the main breaker (don’t want to fry utility workers with back fed current), crank the generator, and make sure you have plenty of gas on hand. We keep 500 gals. in a bulk tank (treated with Star Tron) for farm use. This is not as convenient as a total standby generator, but also not as costly.
    We are expecting low temps Tuesday and Wednesday of 2 degrees F. Made sure all incoming water lines from well were buried at least 2 feet under ground when installed, which is at least 6 inches below our deepest freeze depth of 18 inches which came in 1978. Got to below zero every night for two weeks.

    Hope the weather is nice to you guys. Keep up the great articles.

    • It’s good that you have backups, but I cringe at the thought of relying on every household with backup remembering to pull a main breaker. A simple transfer switch is cheap enough and once installed, is a reliable cutover method. Pull the breaker too, so as to have belt and suspenders redundancy. Remember that if you backfeed, you backfeed transformers and that means that the high voltage lines go live! If/when your breaker pops, there’s an inductive spike to be expected from that transformer secondary that could be many times the seven or thirteen thousand volts nominal that’s expected.

      If you get caught feeding into your breaker box without a transfer switch, even if you didn’t backfeed, you may have hell to pay legally.

      • What I was referring to is not the main breaker in the breaker box, but a total disconnect on the incoming utility service. Not automated, because I do not have an auto start generator. And yes I have enough sense to not backfeed the power grid. Simple procedure if we experience a prolonged power outage; pull the main disconnect which removes me from the power grid and then connect the generator, these tow features are located side by side with appropriate warning signs. For your information, I have a BS in Mechanical Engineering, wife is an Electrical Engineer, and I spent 40 years in industrial maintenance. I am also on a first name basis with the head Engineer with the local utility. I cleared all my setup with them before the first wire was pulled. I do not believe in “half-ass” doing anything. I have multiple friends that work for the local utility, and I have no intention of frying any of them.

  6. Living in Idaho,you better get it right or your pipes will freeze every year. Best time to prepare is in the summer. Make sure your water supply line is buried below frost line. Above ground, heat tape is wrapped around pipes and then foam insulation wrapped over that. Plug it in when it gets real cold. For us, when it hits 10 Degrees we know to turn on the cold water facets at each sink so water comes out the diameter of a pencil.
    In our double wide, a woodstove in the center has kept our furnace from kicking on for 5 years and certainly helps the house to be a heatsink. We never turn on the hot water, that’s a waste of money. I always heard heated water freezes quicker then cold anyway. But it’s common knowledge here that if you don’t turn on your cold a trickle, when it gets real cold, you will freeze up.

  7. I moved my woodstove from a useless space at the edge of the house to almost the absolute center of it. It’s an old, large one and radiates heat to the masonry mass that many of the interior walls are made from. It easily heats the core of the house, even below zero, as long as you feed it enough wood. I have plenty on the property, so accumulating a few cords during warmer weather is no big deal. I have it set up so that the only peripheral plumbing can be shut off and drained for winter, and until I find my beloved and she wants to use the master bedroom, I leave that area cold. The only reason to use gas heat is if I’m away for one reason or another.

    Gas may heat best, but wood heats cheapest! It can get cold here, but we’ve been very lucky this year. It will still be 11 degrees tonight, but it’s well above freezing almost every day.

    BTW, I installed a Marey instant hot water system and it’s great! I get hot showers when I want them and for the most part, there is no hot water demand. For single folks, it’s ideal. For others, it allows for unlimited time showers. It’s much less finicky than the older ones IMHO.

  8. Prepping for ice accumulation: When I moved to DC area from the MW, I was a neophyte when it came to dealing with 3 to 4 inches of ice on the cement walks, especially after I had just returned home from a business trip. The ice was too thick to melt or remove easily. Found a great non-salt or chemical solution, however. Take a roll of aluminum screening and throw it out on the sidewalk, anchoring it with simple weights at the corners. The roll I used was the same width as the sidewalk, the length fit as well. My postman said that my sidewalk was the only one he felt safe walking on. The ice melted naturally over more than a week, after which I rolled up the screen and used it several other times that winter. Now we always have screening put aside in case they forecast ice or “winter mix.”

    • Need to add one detail — the screening is thrown on TOP of the ice, which covered the sidewalk. Won’t work if put down before the ice accumulates.

  9. In Michigan, we use to put bales of straw around the foundation to help keep the pipes from freezing. That and we used heat tape for the pipes. We also let the facet drip or at least run it a few times throughout the day and night. Worked well. Our only source of heat was the wood stove where we would ‘bank’ the fire. So it would burn for a very long time.

  10. We changed all our pipes to pecs. A plumber friend blew it up with air and still they don’t burst! Even when we drained the pipes the pvc still breaks down over time with a little frozen water left in them. Pecs also bends around corners ,nice feature.

  11. These are for non-preppers, who’ve taken no steps yet to prepare for winter…

    Pipes: Turn on the water — every tap — the slightest drip or dribble will keep the pipes open down to about -20°F

    Power: Indoor-certified kerosene heater / camp stove if one needs to heat pipe, propane BBQ grill if the pipes are good. If your house is “tight,” crack open a window to ensure your heat source doesn’t suck up all the oxygen.

    Ice: Any square shovel works for snow removal, ANY salt product works for ice removal, down to zero degrees (if you’ve steps or a ramp, a salt shaker can save your femurs…) For snow plus freezing rain or winter mix, DO NOT SHOVEL THE SNOW until after the storm passes. It is much less dangerous than the ice.

    George, dumping your hot water is not necessary. Just turn every faucet on to the finest trickle you can. 80 drops per minute will keep them from freezing solid. If not frozen solid, a few minutes of running them full-bore will remove any built-up ice and they’ll open right back up.

    There is no experience quite like stepping outside and experiencing an instantaneous 100+ degree drop in temperature. It is shocking, amazing, and literally breathtaking. Had I not begun preparing for it when the temps were in the 90s, my last three weeks would’ve sucked badly.

  12. Driving in winter crap:

    1. SLOW DOWN
    “Speed limits” are not a minimum travel speed. I have slid 100yds in a 3700 pound car, at 10mph, to find myself still going, roughly 10mph

    2. Never come to a complete stop
    Inertia is a bitch. Time your speed to hit lights 3-4 seconds after they turn green. This keeps you from hitting the idiot who didn’t, and will be sliding through the intersection after the light changes. Assume green lights will be red when you get there, and slow to a crawl while you can. This keeps you from being said idiot. Time your arrival to stop signs so you can make a safe rolling stop, neither hitting or being hit by another, nor screwing up anyone else’s timing as they try to do the same.

    3. Assume the driver on the side road is an idiot
    He’s not going to be able to stop, and so is going to slide through the intersection. Ensure you can stop or ditch your car when he does.

    4. Polished ice is essentially friction-free
    I have pushed, by lifting the doorframe and allowing myself to fall forward, a 2-ton car which stopped on glare ice. Its tires turned, at probably 20rpm, but had zero purchase. Once moving (at all), it continued to do so.

    5. On snow you’re driving constantly uphill
    Weight pushes down on, and packs snow, instantaneously thawing it slightly, and refreezing it as ice. Tires do this at the leading edge of their contact patch, which then must climb this tiny, but significant hill, to roll, rather than spin. BTW the wider the tire, the wider the icy ramp, up which it must roll.

    6. On slush you have no steering
    After a number of vehicles have driven through the same snow, this icy snow breaks up into sand-sized granules. The granules are slush. Driving through slush is like driving through impossibly slick quicksand. Your traction drops to about 5%, but your steering goes to zero. Whatever direction your vehicle is going, it will continue to go until you are through the slush. When it’s really cold, the slush will freeze overnight, creating channels which throw partially out of control, any vehicle that hits them.

    7. On ice you have neither steering nor traction
    If you stop on ice, you will have issues going again. If it’s on a hill, plan on sliding backward into the pile of cars in the road at the bottom of the hill.

    8. Keep one eye on your right curb
    Barking your tires on a curb will scrub speed rapidly. Hitting a parked car will scrub it even more-rapidly. Either is preferable to hitting that bus full of kids that’s stopped in front of you.

    9. 4-wheel drive is also 4-wheel slide
    4WD gives about a 2.5x traction advantage over 2WD. It can get you out of trouble or give you a traction advantage on any terrain, however, it is of no advantage in a slide. ALSO, when one gets used to it, they tend to begin to accept it as of more advantage than it is.

    10. An SUV has an extraordinarily high center of gravity
    An SUV is a glorified station wagon built on a pickup truck chassis. A lateral slide into a solid barrier like a curb, or even a ploughed snowbank, at even a few MPH will cause it to roll over. BE AWARE!

    I carry kitty litter along with my usual prepping stuff. I used to carry sand, but litter works better until it breaks down into dust. It will proffer traction on slick surfaces, can be bought anywhere, and is cheap. I have twice shoveled more than 60′ of roadway, with a trenching shovel – not fun, but better than a wrecker – when a car bottomed out in snow too deep for its tires to gain purchase. If it’s deep and you are driving a car… don’t. Bear in mind, a vehicle’s ground clearance is the distance from the ground to its axles, irrespective of how high its body may be mounted above the axles…

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