Preparing your home for the freeze

- For Houston-area residents who haven't started their heater up yet, they're going to on Friday night. Freeze warnings across several counties for Friday night have home and vehicle owners preparing to avoid unexpected and costly breaks around the house as the cold weather drops in.

Turning on the heater (5 minutes)

Older models may need the pilot light re-lit. "Follow the instructions on the burner valve," advises Robert Phillips, HVAC Manager at Abacus Plumbing. He warns against using a candle, as the wax can drip and cause issues inside the unit.

And if it smells for a few minutes, don't panic. "Dust, pet hair, and other contaminants have settled on the heat exchanger and those will burn off. It's entirely normal," says Phillips. If the smell lasts longer than five minutes, Phillips says to turn the heater off and contact a professional HVAC service.

Houston Fire reminds anyone using a space heater to keep the device away from other objects, and never leave unattended.

Check the flue pipe in the attic (7 minutes)

"What we want to make sure is that the flue pipe goes all the way through the roof, and all the joints are together and snapped in place," says Phillips. A faulty flue could leak deadly carbon monoxide into your home. While carbon monoxide detectors are not required in Texas homes, Phillips says they are inexpensive and can save lives.

Cover outdoor water pipes and faucets (10 minutes)

If you don't have proper insulation materials, Jose Parra of Abacus Plumbing recommends using an old rag and duct tape to cover all water pipes outdoors.

Turn off and drain your sprinkler system (3 minutes)

"What normally happens is [customers will] call us and they'll have water shooting out the top," says Parra of home sprinkler systems. The plastic parts are vulnerable to breaking when water expands. Turn off the water valve to the sprinkler system and then drain all water out of the sprinklers.

Check your car (5 minutes)

Charlie Ryder of the Universal Technical Institute advises checking the anti-freeze levels, battery voltage, and tire pressure. If you own the right tools, this can be quick.

Use an anti-freeze tester to determine if your fluids are correct for the expected temperatures. Ryder says cloudy or discolored fluid is also a sign it needs to be changed. A multimeter can quickly check that your car battery voltage is around 12.6.

"If your tires are low on pressure it takes more gasoline to get your tires down the road," notes Ryder, who points out cold weather can naturally decrease tire pressure. This can easily be corrected at any area gas station air pump.

Auto service centers can usually do these checks quickly, but Ryder suggests calling ahead as they often get busy when the weather changes.

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