We had our first good-sized storm come through Texas earlier this week and it brought to mind a laundry-list of winter storm items that we do as a matter of course. Life in the woods, and all that…
If you’re new to home ownership (617-thousand homes were sold in the USA last year), here’s a list of “right things to do” before the cold weather hits.
- Take Care of Your Pipes
This may seem obvious, but it’s really not. Sure, you can put those Styrofoam plastic helmets on the outdoors faucets, but in extended cold (and we usually get a few days when temps get into the low teens and don’t warm above freezing during the day) a good additional protection is to 1) put a large plastic garbage bag over the pipe (with helmet on) and then 2) cover the whole mess with a couple of bushels of leaves.
For pipes that go into unheated garage spaces, consider putting in a long-neck self-draining faucet. And then get after the whole garage door leaks heat like a sieve thing with insulating foam tape.
Just this week, I got around to fixing up the French doors into the shop ($50-bucks at a yard sale, you think I’m an idiot who studies AD?) with finish trim molding all around. Made one hell of a difference in comfort. The shop temp came up 13-degrees. 48-F on the outside (before the storm) and 51 degrees inside.
Further point on shops and garages: Many of them have open ventilation with screening, it works just fine some of the time. But, if you’re prepping, start thinking about plywood “flappers” that you can drop to further reduce heat loss. Insulate the shop or garage? No, I’m not that nuts. There’s always something to do in heated spaces…
2. Have Multiple Heating Sources
You won’t always be able to do this, but even in Airdzona, our friends all keep their fireplaces ready for the “just in case.” Even better than a regular fireplace, though, is a solid fireplace inset – and one that will put out heat without an additional blower running. I’ve done stews on inserts and they’re great. Cool slowly, all day. When the powers out, you want a warm house so pipes don’t freeze.
We live in a totally “artified” double-wide. And many of these in the early 1990’s came with a mix of regular a/c and heating plus a ventless gas heater. Elaine hated ours…it was a bugger to start, anyway. But useful the few times we needed it. Today, we have a brand new, in the box unit that may sneak past the Art Board. Regardless, having a full 500 gallon propane tank and a big source of BTUs is a huge comfort.
One more trick: Get some 1″ styro and cover your foundation vents if you have ’em. Sure, the house needs to breathe. But not when it’s super cold. Put them on for the real cold stuff. You’ll get warmer floors and a less drafty house. Even with insulated metal ducting he had put in, there’s a difference in start-up air temps with the vent holes covered.
3. Get the Right Electric Heater!
I’ve been living with electric heat seems like forever. Even on my sailboat, in addition to the diesel stove, there were small electric heaters about. Here at the ranch (we run cats and trees) there’s electric heat for the guest room/gym/spare bath. And in my office.\
Big Electric Heat Secret! Simply? Get a cheap one!
The reason is simple: If we have a power outage, we don’t want to have to go around resetting heaters. I had made the mistake of buying “fancy” one year and I rue the day. Even so much as a bump in the power and the “fancy” one demands a manual reset. The $20 ceramic heater (700/1500 watts) comes back on when the power comes on all by itself. Simple is better.
Oh, the cheap one has a better “upset switch” too. When you buy a heater, remember there’s only so many BTU’s in a watt. So all 1,500 watt heaters will put out the same heat. Ditto all 700 watt heaters.
How much current does a 1,500 watt heater draw?
Answer: 1,500 (watts) / 120 Volts equals 12.5 AMPS. Which is why 15 amp breakers blow if you add much of anything else.
When you know a storm is coming, we habitually leave our heaters on 700 Watts for a simple safety reason: Feel the outlet where a plug-in heater has been sucking 1,500 watts for a while. Several hours. I can assure you, most of the time, they will be warm if not hot to the touch.
Now I get to the lecture part: NEVER INSTALL ANYTHING SMALLER THAN #12 (WITH GROUND) HOUSE WIRING. All kinds of electricians will tell you old man Ure’s nuts. The Code most places will let builders skate with #14. But, any time you do any wiring, replace outlets with heavier 20-amp rated receptacles and feed them with #12 and don’t change the breaker. Leave them at 15 Amps. The idea is to have safety built in to anything you do to your home. (I’ll put away the soap box now…)
I should mention as a heat source that beginning as soon as it cools off a bit more, tube type ham radio equipment is a joy: Provides enough heat to keep the heater off, and there’s a magic to vacuum tubes and far away radio stations or ham radio chats on the low bands in winter…)
4. Write Down the Power Outage Reporting Number
Write down the emergency outage 800 number. Then, put it on the bottom of every phone in the house. Sure smart meters are supposed to know all that stuff. But I find the squeaky wheel gets greased first. Squeak. How?
5. Have a Land Line? Get an Old Phone
We have all kinds of electronics here – including cordless phones all over hell and gone. Alexa in every room and help can be summoned with a word. But, when the power goes off, the phone base units run for only an hour, or three, and then your comms are down. Two Alexa units and routers are on big UPS supplies. Cell Towers are usually only good for 48-hours, or so. A 2-meter ham radio is a very reassuring tool. But, nothing like having an old DTMF (TouchTone) old-school phone. The kind with pulse or tones are my personal fave, Once upon a time I could dial a number using a couple of beer can tabs…ah, the joys of Lost Technology, huh?
6. Foodery and Cookery
Where to begin? You have bottled water – couple of cases per person, right?
And you have one (or more) gas or wood-fired BBQs,, right?
It is not possible to have too many 20-gallon propane bottles. We use the 40 pounder on the main grill – weighs about 76.5 LBS full. The backup cooking is a 20 pounder on a portable camp stove (with oven).
Speaking of Ovens: I have to put in a plug for the absolute best cold-weather food there is: Get a couple of loaves of that “bake it yourself” white bread. Keep them frozen until disaster shows up. Immediately thaw and let it rise for a day or four. Oil the sides and tops, cover with plastic wrap. How long to rise will depend on how close to 75-80F you keep it.
Cut the loaves in half. Form into huge dough balls. Toss ’em in the oven. It won’t be like Seattle waterfront eats, but you get store-bought clam chowder, toss in several additional small cans of minced or chopped clams, and a handful of bacon bits…(mouth watering yet?)
Hog out the center of the round mini loaves, after you turn them out for about 20-30 minutes. Fill the hollow with the reinforced chowder, saving the center part for use as a bonus chowder-sopper. Serve with a glass of, oh, a Chardonnay… See how much fun power outages can be? (Dash of Worcestershire? Seesh, if you must…)
7. Lights Out
Every room in the house has a strong LED flashlight. We find Amazon Basics AA and AAA cells are a good value. We buy them by the case.
If you are young and romantic, power outages can be a lot of fun for the first night of an extended power outage (even into senior years if that’s not TMI). After all, the hot water usually is passably warm for showers after up to several hours after lights out…After that, out come the quilts.
By golly, all this sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Why, we can hardly wait for the next big storm to come rolling through…glass of champagne?
Write when you get rich,