How to protect your pipes -- and more -- from the freezing weather

shot courtesy NBC Dallas

Get ready! If you think it’s cold today, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

First, I’ve been showing you this comparison chart of the different models -- American GFS, German ICON, Canadian GEM, and Euro. They are now more in line with each other on predicting a historical cold snap for Houston. We’ve seen nothing like this since the ’80s, which means many Houstonians are unprepared.

Models are agreeing on major cold

From midnight Sunday to Wednesday afternoon, we’ll be freezing and on Tuesday we could fall to single digits! Add into the mix Monday’s ice storm (pink is ice). Keep in mind that 1/10 of an inch of ice causes road problems while a half-inch of ice adds 500 pounds of weight to a power line.

American Model showing Monday's Ice Storm

Everyone knows to cover plants but here are my tips: I bought a 140′ heat cord they use up north for roofs to keep snow melting. I’m going to string that cord around my outdoor beds, cover the plants and hope for the best. If you have a pool, heat it to where you see steam coming off of it, then use fans to blow that steam into the adjacent plants. It’s expensive, but so are plants. If nothing else, keep that pool ON. Those pool pipes can freeze and that will be a nightmare. If we lose electricity, that is another story.

Speaking of pipes

I spoke with Abacus Plumbing and The Plumbing Guy about protecting your outdoor pipes. The general advice is to wrap them and keep them dry! If all the pipe sleeves in town are gone, use towels and wrap those with a garbage bag and duct tape them! Abacus sent this chart:

Thanks to Abacus Plumbing for this guide

I’ve also had viewers suggest those pool noodles--just cut them and wrap the pipe:

Noodles can protect pipes! Pic from Debbie Bailey via Facebook

You can also insulate pipes with disposable diapers, which come with tape for easy install -- and, after all, they are MADE to insulate, protect and absorb!

Diapers work for pipes!

You’ll also want to protect sprinkler systems. The Plumbing Guy says simply find the dome on top, turn the blue valves to a cross position, use a flathead screwdriver to drain, then cover. I heard on 104 Radio today you can also remove a sprinkler head and that will keep the system draining. And don’t forget domestic water wells that you might have. Those need to be protected also.

Turn off the water?

A big question The Plumbing Guy has been getting is whether to turn off the water to the house. You can, but keep in mind that if you have a circulation pump at the tank (or tankless set up) you can burn that pump out if you fail to turn it off. Most people don’t really know if they have one, so the best advice might be to run a trickle of water -- if you do that, use the farthest away spigot from where the water comes into the house. For example, if your water comes into the front of the house, trickle a sink or tub in the back of the house. Also, open your cabinets under the sinks to keep the warmer house air flowing in there.

What if the pipes freeze anyway?

First, do not use anti-freeze on a frozen pipe or any kind of blow-torch or flame. Some ideas: run a blow dryer with the hot air pointed to the pipe (I actually did this once and it works, but took hours so I propped the dryer up and left it); an electric heating pad or hot towels wrapped around the pipe will eventually thaw it, or a space heater close enough to the pipe will work.

Lastly, this advice

Keep everyone you know and love safe and warm. Like this guy:

Take it from the man!

Our ice storm is arriving soon and our local hero is departing. I’m sad about both.

Good luck to all of you this coming week and good luck to J.J. We’ll miss you!


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About the Author:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.