Tips for Preparing Your Home for Winter Weather

As the temperatures begin to drop, it is essential to be prepared for the effect of cold weather on your home, including your water pipes, driveways and sidewalks. There are simple preventive measures that you can take to protect your pipes and water supply and help control your utility costs when temperatures drop below freezing. Also, clearing sidewalks and driveways with deicers and salt can harm the environment.

When a pipe freezes, a lot of pressure is created inside it, which can cause it to burst and lead to severe flooding and expensive repairs. This damage is avoidable with the proper preparation.

The pipes most at risk are those in unheated interior spaces such as basements, attics and garages. Stafford County’s Department of Utilities has put together some helpful tips.

How to Prevent Frozen Water Pipes

  • Locate and label your water main shut-off valve and ensure everyone in your household knows its location. Turning your water off quickly can limit damage should a pipe freeze or burst.
  • Insulate your pipes and outside faucets (hose spigots) in unheated areas. If you have pipes in an unheated garage or crawl space, wrap the water pipes with insulation.
  • Disconnect, drain and store garden hoses. A frozen garden hose connected to an interior pipe can increase pressure throughout the plumbing system, causing damage. It only takes one overnight freeze to burst the spigot or connecting pipe.
  • During freezing temperatures, open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate the plumbing, especially if your sinks are on an exterior wall. Remove any harmful cleaners and household chemicals from your cabinets if you have small children or pets.
  • Also, drip cold water from the farthest faucet from your main valve when temperatures are below freezing. Moving water in the pipes keeps them from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature day and night. If you plan to be away during cold weather, leave the heat on your home no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you have a burst pipe, shut off your main water valve and call a licensed and registered plumber immediately. Stafford County Utilities is responsible for water mains and all water meter connections, not pipes on your property. Protect your pipes this winter and prevent the cold weather from damaging your pipes and home!

Driveway and Sidewalk Clearing

When snow or ice hits and you start to clear your driveways and sidewalks, try other methods before using salts or deicers to protect the environment. A deicer is a substance that melts or prevents the formation of ice, and does so by lowering the freezing point of water and avoiding a bond between ice and paved surfaces. When snow and ice melt, all roadway treatments eventually wash into lakes, streams, wetlands and groundwater.

Once present in water, there is no easy way to remove chlorides as no existing stormwater treatment system exists to capture and retain them. Although chlorides may be loosely retained in soils or in water, they can build up at the downstream end of the watershed, or within groundwater. When this occurs, sodium levels in drinking water supplies can increase water treatment costs.

How to Reduce the Amount of Salt Used to Clear Driveways and Sidewalks:

  • Clear snow by shoveling early and often and apply salt only where needed.
  • Apply salt after clearing snow and never use salt to “burn off” the snow. It will quickly dilute and require excess use.
  • If the sun comes out and you can wait, let the sun do some of the work before you apply salt.
  • Use traction materials instead of salt. These include sand, native blends of bird seed and zeolite crystals.

One 12-oz coffee mug of sodium chloride or rock salt with a melting temperature of 15° Fahrenheit is enough to treat a 20-foot driveway or ten sidewalk squares. Aim for about three inches between pieces of rock salt. Calcium chloride has a melting temperature of -20° Fahrenheit and should be applied at one-third of the rate used for sodium chloride. Be patient and give the salt time to work. The colder it is, the longer it will take for the salt to melt what snow or ice remains after shoveling. After the storm, sweep up any extra salt or traction material and use it again next time.

All nitrogen and phosphorus salts are illegal in Virginia, including urea, ammonium sulfate and potassium nitrate, etc. Chlorides have several harmful environmental effects, including threatening freshwater aquatic life. Chlorides also have harmful and destructive impacts on infrastructure, as they erode metal and pit concrete, rust metal vehicle components, kill non-salt tolerant vegetation, and harm soil, pets, and wildlife. This winter, try using less salt to help protect Stafford’s environment, and remember to protect your pipes when freezing temperatures hit.