Prevent Winter Water Disasters

There are several measures that can be taken to prevent winter water disasters in your home. Below, we describe a few of the basics.

  • Locate and mark the main water cutoff valve for your home. This cutoff valve is usually found near where the water line comes into your house. Damage from running water can be minimized if you turn off this valve quickly.
  • Make sure the water line to outside faucets is turned off and the lines are drained.
  • Consider wrapping or insulating your water pipes, especially those pipes near outside walls, under the house, or in the attic. Insulation supplies are available at your local home improvement/hardware store.
  • Eliminate drafts. Check around the home for areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas and take measures to prevent the flow of cold air in these areas. Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated. A hot water supply line can freeze just as a cold water supply line can freeze if water is not running through the pipe and the water temperature becomes cold.
  • If your water pipes do freeze, never try to thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch. Contact Brenneco Plumbing, your local licensed and insured plumber.

What do I do if my water meter freezes? If you suspect you have a frozen water meter, call your local water company for help.
  • If your heating system breaks down or is off for a I prolonged period of time, take steps to protect yourself – and your home. Call a qualified, licensed natural gas contractor for repair or replacement. Make sure to protect your home’s water pipes from freezing, and consider staying with relatives or friends to avoid exposure to cold while repairs are being made.
  • Know the warning signs of hypothermia, a condition I brought on by prolonged exposure to cold – whether – inside or outside. The body temperature becomes abnormally low – 95 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Symptoms can include shivering; stiffness or numbness in the arms or legs; cold, pale patches of pink-purple or blue-gray skin; or mental changes such as confusion or the inability to focus.
  • Seek medical attention immediately.
  • Never use your stovetop or oven for heating. Continuous burning could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning and fire hazards.
  • Change the furnace filter at least once a month during the winter for safety and energy efficiency.

Household Water Tips

Water Heating
Warm water can be costing you more than you think. A typical household spends 14 percent of their energy bill, or about $200 a year on hot water.

To save on both water heating and water, install a low-flow showerhead. It can cut water use as much as 50 percent.

  • Keep showers under 5 minutes. Turn off the water to soap up.
  • Attach low-flow aerators to kitchen and bathroom faucets. The faucet will flow stronger while using much less water. For a family of four, this can save thousands of gallons of water a year.
  • Wrap the hot water pipes coming out of your water heater with insulation.
  • Set the thermostat to 120°F or less for normal use – saving money, energy and even skin (by eliminating scalds).
  • If the side of your water heater feels warm near the top, install an insulation blanket. Make sure to use the appropriate type blanket for your water heater, whether it’s electric, gas or oil. Follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions carefully.
  • Humidify!
Humid air feels warmer than dry air. Increasing the humidity of your home also helps you resist winter colds and moisturizes dry skin.
  • Keep house plants. Plants clean the air and add moisture to it at the same time.
  • Put trays of water on top of radiators. Leave the bathroom door open after a shower, so the warm steamy air circulates through the house.

Water Saving Tips

There are a number of ways to save water, and they all start with you.

  • Avoid using the toilet for a wastebasket. Every flush you can eliminate can save between two and seven gallons of water.
  • Leaks waste water. Add several drops of food coloring to the toilet tank. If it’s leaking, the coloring will appear in the toilet without flushing.
  • If you don’t have a low flow toilet, use plastic bottles filled with water and pebbles to displace water in the tank. Don’t obstruct float and don’t use bricks.
  • Don’t let the water run while you brush your teeth or shave. Turn the faucet on briefly to rinse. An electric razor saves the most.
  • Keep showers under 5 minutes. Turn off the water to soap up.
  • Filling the tub uses about 50 gallons of water. Try bathing in just 10 gallons. Plug the tub when you shower; how full does the tub get?
  • Match washer’s load selector to your load size. Try to wash only full loads. Minimize detergent use. Save energy by using cold water to wash.
  • Install low-volume toilets.
  • Limit dishwasher use to full loads. Minimize detergent use. Prepare food with an eye to reducing dishwashing.
  • Choose a car wash that recycles water. At home, use a shut-off nozzle and wash your car in small sections. Direct runoff to water landscaping.
  • Replacing an old shower head can save up to 7.5 gallons of water per minute without sacrificing full spray action at low or high water pressures.
  • When washing dishes by hand, don’t let the water run while rinsing. Fill one sink with wash water and the other with rinse water.
  • Run your washing machine and dishwasher only when they are full and you could save 1000 gallons a month.
  • Use the garbage disposal sparingly. Compost instead and save gallons every time.
  • Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap for cold drinks, so that every drop goes down you not the drain.
  • Check your water meter and bill to track your water usage.
  • Minimize evaporation by watering during the early morning hours, when temperatures are cooler and winds are lighter.
  • Wash your produce in the sink or a pan that is partially filled with water instead of running water from the tap.
  • Use a layer of organic mulch around plants to reduce evaporation and save hundreds of gallons of water a year.
  • Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your driveway or sidewalk and save 80 gallons of water every time.
  • If your shower can fill a one-gallon bucket in less than 20 seconds, then replace it with a water-efficient showerhead.
  • Plug the bathtub before turning the water on, then adjust the temperature as the tub fills up.
  • Direct downspouts and other runoff towards shrubs and trees, or collect and use for your garden.
  • Install a rain shut-off device on your automatic sprinklers to eliminate unnecessary watering.
  • Don’t use running water to thaw food.
  • Choose a water-efficient drip irrigation system for trees, shrubs and flowers. Watering at the roots is very effective, be careful not to over water.
  • Contact a qualified contractor to fix that leaky faucet. It’s simple, inexpensive, and can save 140 gallons a week
  • When doing laundry, match the water level to the size of the load.
  • Teach your children to turn the faucets off tightly after each use.
  • Before you lather up, install a low-flow showerhead. They’re inexpensive, easy to install, and can save your family more than 500 gallons a week.
  • Soak your pots and pans instead of letting the water run while you scrape them clean.
  • Water your plants deeply but less frequently to create healthier and stronger landscapes.
  • Make sure you know where your master water shut-off valve is located. This could save gallons of water and damage to your home if a pipe were to burst.
  • Buy a rain gauge to track how much rain or irrigation your yard receives. Check with your local water agency to see how much rain is needed to skip an irrigation cycle.
  • Teach your family how to shut off your automatic watering systems. Turn sprinklers off if the system is malfunctioning or when a storm is approaching.
  • Make sure your toilet flapper doesn’t stick open after flushing.
  • Install an instant water heater on your kitchen sink so you don’t have to let the water run while it heats up. This will also reduce heating costs for your household.
  • Cut back on rinsing if your dishwasher is new. Newer models clean more thoroughly than older ones.
  • Use a screwdriver as a soil probe to test soil moisture. If it goes in easily, don’t water. Proper lawn watering can save thousands of gallons of water annually.
  • Do one thing each day that will save water. Even if savings are small, every drop counts.
  • When the kids want to cool off, use the sprinkler in an area where your lawn needs it the most.
  • Make sure your swimming pools, fountains, and ponds are equipped with re-circulating pumps.
  • Winterize outdoor spigots when temps dip to 20 degrees F to prevent pipes from bursting or freezing.
  • Insulate hot water pipes so you don’t have to run as much water to get hot water to the faucet.
  • Use a hose nozzle and turn off the water while you wash your car and save more than 100 gallons.
  • If your toilet was installed prior to 1980, place a toilet dam or bottle filled with water in your toilet tank to cut down on the amount of water used for each flush. Be sure these devices do not interfere with operating parts.
  • Install water softening systems only when necessary. Save water and salt by running the minimum number of regenerations necessary to maintain water softness.
  • Wash clothes only when you have a full load and save up to 600 gallons each month.
  • Pick-up the phone and report significant water losses from broken pipes, open hydrants and errant sprinklers to the property owner or your water management district.
  • Listen for dripping faucets and toilets that flush themselves. Fixing a leak can save 500 gallons each month.
  • More plants die from over-watering than from under-watering. Be sure only to water plants when necessary.
  • Choose new water-saving fixtures, like waterless urinals.
  • If you accidentally drop ice cubes when filling your glass from the freezer, don’t throw them in the sink. Drop them in a house plant instead.
  • To save water and time, consider washing your face or brushing your teeth while in the shower.
  • While staying in a hotel or even at home, reuse your towels.
  • Collect the water you use for rinsing produce and reuse it to water houseplants.
  • Divide your watering cycle into shorter periods to reduce runoff and allow for better absorption every time you water.
  • We’re more likely to notice leaky faucets indoors, but don’t forget to check outdoor faucets, pipes, and hoses for leaks.
  • Time your shower to keep it under 5 minutes. You’ll save up to 1000 gallons a month.
  • When you clean your fish tank, use the water you’ve drained on your plants. The water is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, providing you with a free and effective fertilizer

Energy Saving Tips

These tips can help you save money as you reduce the energy use in your home:

• Limit the loss of expensive heated air to the outside. Use fans sparingly. In just one hour, these fans can blow away a house full of warm air.

• Keep fireplace dampers tightly closed until you prepare to light a fire. An open damper in a 48-inch square fireplace can let as much as 8% of our heat escape out the chimney.

• Lower your thermostat to about 65 degrees F during the day and 60 degrees F at night. For each degree you turn down your thermostat, you’ll save 3% on heating bills.

• When using the fireplace, open dampers in the bottom of the firebox if provided, or open the closet window about 1 inch and close the doors leading into the room. This allows more air for the fire without reducing heat loss.

• Make a draft detector by clipping a piece of tissue paper to a coat hanger. Hold the coat hanger in front of a suspected crack; any movement indicates a leak in need of caulking or weather stripping.

• Avoid heating unused areas by closing off unoccupied rooms and shutting off heat vents. (Does not apply if you have a heat pump)

• Learn about R values before you buy your insulation materials. These numbers indicate resistance of an insulation material to winter heat loss or summer heat gain.

• Consider installing storm windows and doors. Storm windows can be both energy efficient and convenient. Good windows can result in cost savings of as much as 15% a year.

• Consider the advantages of a clock thermostat for your heating system. The clock thermostat will turn the heat down automatically at a regular hour before you retire and turn it up again before you wake.

• Close windows and doors during hot days and open them at night.

• Close drapes and shades during hot days.

• Reduce use of oven, incandescent lights and appliances that generate heat.

• To stay cool, use ceiling fans to cool individual rooms.

• To stay cool, consider installing a whole house fan in the attic.

• Get a timer for air conditioners so they can be off all day and turned on before you get home.

• Time for a new color? Use light colors when painting the house and trim.

• Stay cool by planting shade trees on the sunny side of the house.

GO GREEN with your WATER

What’s the Big Deal?

There is no resource more precious than water. There is also no resource that is misused, abused, misallocated, and misunderstood the way water is. Safe drinking water, healthy and intact natural ecosystems, and a stable food supply are a few of the things at stake as our water supply is put under greater and greater stress. The picture might look grim, but opportunities to be more efficient abound. Many people have had water-saving etiquette pumped into them at one point or another, so hopefully we can make a good case for conserving the stuff with practical, everyday water-saving strategies as well as some more high-tech approaches.

A few ways to GO GREEN

No drips – A dripping faucet can waste 20 gallons of water a day. A leaking toilet can use 90,000 gallons of water in a month. Get out the wrench and change the washers on your sinks and showers, or get new washerless faucets. Keeping your existing equipment well maintained is probably the easiest and cheapest way to start saving water.

Install new fixtures – New low-volume or dual-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads, and water free urinals can all save a great deal of water and money. Aerators on your faucets can significantly reduce water volume; water-saving showerheads can cut the volume of water used down to 1.2 gallons per minute or less, and some even have a “pause button” to let you stop the water while soaping up or shampooing.  Using low-flow showerheads and faucets is estimated to save 45 gallons of that 260 gallons of water used in a typical household per day, almost 18% of your usage. Splurging on a low-flow toilet could save another 50-80 gallons of water a day. Together, those changes nearly cut in half the household’s daily use, saving a considerable amount of water – and passing that savings on to your water bill, as well as your water heating bill.

Harvest your greywater – Water that has been used at least once but is still clean enough for other jobs is called greywater. Water from sinks, showers, dishwashers, and clothes washers are the most common household examples. (Toilet water is often called “blackwater” and needs a different level of treatment before it can be reused.) Greywater can be recycled with practical plumbing systems or with simple practices such as emptying the fish tank in the garden instead of the sink. The bottom line? One way or another, avoid putting water down the drain when you can use it for something else.

Keep your eyes open – Report broken pipes, open hydrants, and excessive waste. Don’t be shy about pointing out leaks to your friends and family members, either. They might have tuned out the dripping sound a long time ago.

Don’t spike the punch – Water sources have to be protected. In many closed loop systems like those in cities around the Great Lakes, waste water is returned to the Lake that fresh water comes out of. Don’t pour chemicals down drains, or flush drugs down toilets; it could come back in diluted form in your water.

Prevent Frozen Pipes

Burst pipes are bad news for your home and everything it contains. Both metal and plastic water pipes can burst if the water within them freezes. Before the onset of cold weather, the industry professionals at Brenneco recommend the following:

  • Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer’s or installer’s directions.
  • Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
  • Determine where water supply lines are located – especially in unheated areas. Basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets are likely examples.
  • • Insulate both hot and cold water supply lines in unheated areas. A hot water supply line can freeze just as a cold water supply line can freeze if the water is not running through the pipe and the water temperature in the pipe is cold.
  • If the side of your water heater feels warm near the top, install an insulation blanket. Make sure to use the appropriate type blanket for your water heater, whether it’s electric, gas or oil. Follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions carefully.

Take Preventive Action

  • If there are water supply lines in the garage, keep the garage door closed.
  • Allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing by opening kitchen and bathroom cabinets.
  • When the weather is very cold outside, let cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55°F.

To Thaw Frozen Pipes
If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Locate the suspected frozen area of the water pipe. Likely places include pipes running 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 more ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, and electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or 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 can not 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.