The Dangers of Winter
Winter can be magical, but it's also fraught with danger. Frigid temperatures can make water freeze and expand, causing pipes to burst. Ice buildup on the roof, if unnoticed, can damage both the roof and gutters. Slick black ice between the house and your car can turn that short walk into a hazard!
You can protect yourself from winter's brutal assault with a handful of sensible purchases and repairs, according to Daniel O’Brian, technical expert for SupplyHouse.com, an online retailer of plumbing and heating components. Scroll through this list of seven useful products that can help you get ready for anything Old Man Winter dishes out this season.
1. Heat Tape
Homeowners often shut off the water supply to outside spigots in late fall, but some indoor pipes—such as those located in unheated basements, crawl spaces, or even under sinks in poorly insulated houses—can still be at risk of freezing. And dealing with a pipe that freezes and bursts involves much more than a simple fix. You could find yourself spending thousands of dollars to repair water damage.
“If relocating pipes or draining them during the winter is not an option, heat tape is a relatively easy way to prevent pipe freezing,” O’Brian says. Electric-powered heat tape, such as Easy Heat’s 50-Foot Pipe Tracing Heat Cable (available from SupplyHouse), securely wraps around metal or PVC pipes, and its self-regulating thermostat varies the heat output to keep your pipes from freezing or getting too hot—even in subzero temperatures.
2. Radiant Heat Mats
Icy driveways and sidewalks lead to wintertime falls—and visits to the emergency room. Fortunately, safety doesn't have to involve spreading toxic chemicals or plant-killing salt on paved surfaces. “Approved electric radiant heat mats can be used outdoors not only to save time shoveling, but also to create safer environments with less ice, fewer slips and falls, and less need to salt and condition the surface,” O'Brian says.
If this option sounds good to you, be aware that radiant heat mats need to be installed at the same time as the sidewalk (or driveway) is poured—which puts them out of the running for many homeowners. But investing in a high-quality heat mat, such as the Suntouch ProMelt Mat (available from SupplyHouse), can really pay off. Embedded just beneath the surface of the concrete, these mats keep the concrete surface dry and ice-free all winter. Having radiant heat mats offers the added benefit of keeping shoes dry and clean, so less mess gets tracked into your home.
3. Roof and Gutter De-Icing Cables
A picturesque blanket of snow on the roof can pose an ugly risk if it begins to melt and then refreezes, resulting in heavy ice buildup along the edge of the roof and in the gutter. These accumulations, known as ice dams, can damage roof shingles and lead to leaks, and cause the gutter to tear away from the house.
Securing a heated cable, such as EasyHeat’s 240-Foot Roof and Gutter De-Icing Cable (available from SupplyHouse ), to the roof can offer that ounce of prevention you need. “Roof and gutter de-icing cables are positioned strategically in areas prone to ice dam formation and use heat to melt snow and ice before it can build up and cause a dam,” he explains.
4. Unit Heater
Maintenance and repair work doesn't stop just because temperatures have dipped below freezing. But it can be hard to work on the car or finish up a project in your workshop when your fingers are numb from the cold. “With a proper gas or electrical hookup, unit heaters offer a relatively easy way to condition areas such as garages and workshops,” O’Brian says, making the garage a comfortable work space all year long. Installing and running a heater can help raise the indoor temperature to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which is sufficiently warm for most types of projects or mechanical work. Even better, these units don't need to take up valuable floor space. Some units, such as Modine’s Hot Dawg Natural Gas Power Vented Heater (available from SupplyHouse), come with angle brackets to suspend the unit from the ceiling.
5. Whole-House Humidifier
You're probably familiar with the effects of dry air, such as chapped lips, irritated skin, and worsened breathing problems for those with asthma. Dry air can have similar consequences inside the home. “Forced-air heating systems can especially dry out indoor air, which is harmful for wood floors and furniture,” O’Brian says. Increasing the moisture level in your home during winter via a whole-house humidifier can alleviate these problems. A unit like General Aire’s Drain-Type Power Humidifier (available from SupplyHouse) connects to your home’s HVAC system (professional installation is required). Then, as your furnace sends warm air through the ducts, the humidifier infuses the air with soothing moisture.
6. Frost-Free Sillcocks
Exterior faucets are notorious for freezing and breaking in winter. One solution is to turn off the water supply to the faucets and bleed the lines so they can’t freeze. A better solution would be to replace your standard outdoor faucets with frost-free sillcocks, such as Bluefin’s Frost-Free Anti-Siphon Sillcock (available from SupplyHouse). In a frost-free sillcock, unlike a standard exterior faucet, the valve that shuts off the water sits at the end of a long pipe so it's situated inside your house, where it’s less likely to freeze. Once the frost-free sillcock is in place, you won’t have to turn off the water supply for the winter—you’ll be able to run water whenever you need it, no matter how cold it is outside.
7. Leak and Freeze Detector
Pipes typically have the greatest risk of freezing and breaking during “the first freeze of the season, or in areas where freezing temperatures aren't very common,” O’Brian says. Don't get caught off guard! Install a leak detector wherever a pipe or an appliance, such as a water heater, is apt to freeze or leak.
“Modern detectors go beyond just sounding an alarm,” O’Brian says. “They also provide mobile alerts so that damage can be minimized.” When freezing temperatures approach or if a leak is detected, the Honeywell Lyric Wi-Fi Leak and Freeze Detector (available from SupplyHouse) will sound an audible alarm. It also connects to your home's wireless router and can be configured (via the mobile app) to send an alert to your smartphone so you can take action before a small leak evolves into a disaster. Powered by three AAA batteries, the detector should last about three years.
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