Durham County

With colder weather on the way, here are some tips to help you remain safe


N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper has declared this week Winter Weather Preparedness Week and, with the possibility of freezing temperatures this weekend, the Town of Hillsborough has offered the following tips for area residents to remain safe.

Personal safety tips

▪  If heat is out, go to a neighbor or family member’s home if possible.

▪  Do not use generators, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline or charcoal-burning devices inside the home, basement or garage or near a window. These devices create carbon monoxide gas, which is poisonous.

▪  Check heating units and carbon monoxide detectors. Poorly operating or damaged heating units can release carbon monoxide gas.

▪  Don’t leave children, elderly or pets alone in vehicles. Temperatures in vehicles can drop rapidly.

▪  Pets can be greatly affected by the cold and should not be exposed long.

▪  Wear appropriate clothing that will be adequately insulating from the cold when outdoors. The National Weather Service advises wearing a hat and gloves if outdoors during a wind chill advisory.

▪  Be aware of the amount and intensity of physical activity, both indoors and out. Avoid overexertion. Cold weather puts additional strain on the body, especially the heart.

▪  Keep in mind that older adults, people in fragile health and small children are affected more by the cold than the average adult.

▪  Check on loved ones and neighbors, preferably by telephone.

Protecting pipes from freezing

Frozen pipes can burst and cause substantial damage and water loss. Here are some tips for protecting water pipes, including fire sprinkler systems, during freezing temperature:

▪  Insulate pipes in unheated parts of your home or building. Pipes in unheated areas of a building — attics and crawl spaces — have the greatest chance of freezing. Pipe insulation is available in fiberglass or foam sleeves. Home centers and hardware stores have sleeves providing 1/8 to 5/8 inches of insulation; specialty dealers have products that provide up to 2 inches of insulation. The extra thickness is worth the price and can save a pipe that would freeze with less insulation.

▪  Pipes in unheated areas also can be protected with heat. Heating cables and tapes are effective in freeze protection. Select a heating cable with the UL label and a built-in thermostat that turns the heat on when needed (without a thermostat, the cable has to be plugged in each time and might be forgotten). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely. If you have an incandescent light bulb in your crawlspace, turn it on to provide extra warmth to the space.

▪  Seal all openings in which cold air could reach unprotected water pipes. Especially keep cold wind away from pipes, which speeds the freezing process. Seal openings and air leaks in your crawlspace or basement, including access doors, air vents in the foundation, and cracks. The following can be used to close and seal cracks and other openings: insulation, cardboard, plastic or newspaper. Foundation air vents may have hinged or sliding covers to easily close the vents.

▪  Leave cabinet doors open under the kitchen and bathroom sinks to allow warmer room air to circulate around pipes.

▪  Let water drip slowly from the highest faucet in the building if you have difficulty protecting pipes in an unheated area or believe your pipes may freeze for other reasons. Ice still may form in the pipes, but an open faucet allows water to escape before pressure builds to a point where a pipe can burst. If the dripping stops, it may mean ice is blocking the pipe; keep the faucet open, since the pipe still needs pressure relief.

▪  Check that the cover is closed on the water meter box for your home or business to prevent cold air from freezing water inside the meter.

If your pipes freeze ...

▪  If you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out, leave the faucets turned on and call a plumber.

▪  You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe with warm air from a hair dryer. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe. Do not use electrical appliances in areas of standing water. You could be electrocuted.

▪  Do not try to thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame because it could cause a fire hazard.

If your pipes burst …

▪  Turn off the water at the main shutoff valve in your plumbing system and leave the water faucets turned on. Make sure everyone in your family knows where the water shutoff valve is and how to open and close it. Your shut-off valve may be in the basement, crawl space or closet where water pipes come into the house/building. If you do not have a master shut-off valve in your plumbing system, consider installing one when practical for future use.

▪  Before draining pipes, turn off the water heater to ensure the lack of water doesn't burn out the heating elements.

▪  Drain the pipes in your plumbing system by opening the highest and lowest cold-water faucets in your house until the water is depleted.

▪  Before turning on the water heater again, wait until water service is restored and the water tank is refilled.

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