Safety tips as Houston prepares for colder than normal temperatures

While cold weather in December is usually expected, Houston residents should expect colder than usual temperatures. 

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The temps are expected to drop later this week and into Christmas weekend, and while energy officials say they are prepared, are still encouraging residents to be prepared and stay safe. 

"Because safety is CenterPoint Energy’s top priority, the company is preparing for the upcoming weather conditions and wants customers to be prepared as well," officials said in a press statement. "CenterPoint Energy encourages customers to have an emergency plan, particularly if they depend on electricity for life-sustaining equipment and natural gas or electricity to heat their homes." 

"CenterPoint Energy has taken steps and implemented measures to prepare and be ready for winter weather across greater Houston and surrounding communities," officials added. "In addition, CenterPoint Energy is closely monitoring grid conditions and information from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)."

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In a detailed press release, CenterPoint Energy offered the following tips to ensure safety and energy efficiency for residents to add as part of their emergency plans: 

Natural gas

  • Make sure your heating system is working properly. Malfunctioning home heating equipment can cause a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Check that outside furnace vents aren’t blocked by snow or ice. Keep your furnace filter clean for safe, efficient operation.
  • Use space heaters safely. Use a space heater with an automatic shut-off feature, and keep children, pets, and all items at least three feet away. A space heater that uses gas, propane, or wood should be vented to the outside. Stoves and ovens should never be used for space heating.
  • Check your carbon monoxide (CO) and smoke alarms. These devices are essential to warn you of a fire or dangerous condition involving a furnace, water heater, fireplace or stove. Test your alarms monthly and change batteries as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Immediately report a suspected natural gas leak. If you smell the "rotten egg" odor of natural gas, immediately leave on foot, go to a safe location and call both 911 and CenterPoint Energy at 713-659-2111 or 800-752-8036. Don’t use electric switches/outlets, phones (including cell phones), drive or start a car inside or in close proximity to the location, or do anything that could cause a spark.

Energy Efficiency

Cold temperatures also mean increased energy usage. CenterPoint Energy recommends the following tips for more efficient heating:Furnace: A furnace is the largest natural gas-consuming appliance. 

  • Set your thermostat no higher than 68 degrees. If possible, set it at 65 degrees when you are home and 60 degrees when you are away from home.
  • Lowering your thermostat can help you save on your annual heating costs. Installing a programmable thermostat can help you automatically control your heat usage. Add on extra layers of clothing to keep warm.
  • Change your air filters monthly. A dirty filter restricts airflow and can increase the operating cost of your furnace by as much as 10 percent. A good reminder is to change the filter each time you receive your natural gas bill.

Other appliances: 

Although they consume less natural gas, you can still maximize their efficiency. Run your washing machine, dishwasher, and gas dryer only with full loads.

Make your home more airtight and keep cold air outside:

  • Seal leaks around doors, windows, and other openings such as pipes or ducts, with caulk or weather-stripping. The most common places where air escapes in homes are floors, walls, ceilings, ducts, fireplaces, plumbing penetrations, doors, windows, fans, vents, and electrical outlets.
  • If it has been a while, consider adding more insulation in your attic.
  • On sunny days, open draperies and blinds to let the sun’s warmth in. Close them at night to insulate them against the cold air outside.


  • Weather forecasters are not anticipating a precipitation event later this week and into the weekend. However, electric outages may be caused by high winds, with the potential of strong gusts on Thursday night. Always assume downed lines or wires are energized and potentially dangerous if contacted.
  • Do not go near downed lines or fallen wires.
  • Keep your distance from objects touching downed lines (tree limbs, vehicles, fences, etc.).
  • If someone is actively being shocked due to contact with a power line, do not try to rescue them – you can’t help if you become a victim. Instead, call 911 immediately.
  • Report downed power lines to 713-207-2222 or 800-332-7143.
  • Never use an electric generator inside your home or any other building.

For the latest information on power outages, you can sign up for CenterPoint Energy's Power Alert Service for information on individual outages, follow @cnpalerts and visit Outage Tracker for general outage locations; and visit their website for electric and natural gas safety tips and other resources.

Protecting Pipes 

The Red Cross also offered these safety tips for protecting your pipes along the house. 

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
  • When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold-water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • If you will be traveling during cold weather, leave the heater on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.
  • See additional tips

How to thaw frozen pipes

  • If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely places for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
  • Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.