Prepare for the Worst – What to do when the heat goes out

01Nov12

“All hands on deck!” That’s our battle cry when severe weather strikes, and it puts every tech at Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating on call 24/7.

With the arrival of fall and winter we begin to feel an increased demand for our services, and emergency heating and plumbing repairs start to fill the schedule. Many are often “need it now” emergencies; no water, no heat, unsafe or property damaging conditions.

And it has been my experience, that with a little extra preparation, a number of these emergencies could have either been prevented, had the repair cost reduced, or bought the homeowner extra time to make a decision. Here are a few ways to help you prepare for extreme weather.

Back-up Heat

When roads get covered with snow or its after-hours, some plumbing and heating companies just turn off their phones.  Companies like ours who remain available for emergencies 24/7, tend to get backed up well into the evening because of high demand. A source of back up heat can get you through the night or weekend and help avoid after-hours charges.

When I mention backup heat most people think, “It’s so rare, when I need it I’ll just go get it”, but late at night, on a holiday, or during a real cold winter when space heaters are in demand, backup heat may be difficult to find in your moment of need. It’s a good idea to keep several space heaters on hand. Electric, oil filled heaters are one of the safe, reliable options available today.

There’s another benefit to back up heat; freedom of choice. When a technician comes to your home and suggests a repair, you may want a second opinion. Having back up heat available can give you the freedom to make that choice without feeling trapped.

Know Thy Water Heater

A water heater is one of those things we don’t think about… until it leaks. When it does leak, it can become a “need it now” emergency, and the potential for catastrophic property damage can be all too real.

Knowing the age of your water heater, can help you be better prepared. The average conventional water heater will last 8 to 12 years, depending largely on usage, maintenance, and water quality. I liken water heaters to the tires on a car. Yes, you can wait until you get a flat before you replace a tire, but it may cost more and cause other damage…. and so it is with water heaters.

Today’s technology offers many options for heating water (tankless water heaters, heat pumps water heaters, circulating systems, etc…). Choosing the right system is much easier if you have time to plan. Under the pressure of an emergency, options you might have otherwise considered may be limited, if for no other reason than the need to get your hot water back in service.

Colder Weather and Pipes

As the weather gets colder it’s time to winterize your home. For plumbing this may mean covering hose bibs (outside faucets), isolating and draining or blowing the water out of water lines that are in potential freeze areas (typically these are lines to a hose bib in a garage or an irrigation system).

Crawlspace vents allowing draft over piping should be covered. Any other piping exposed to potentially freezing conditions should be insulated, and/or kept warm enough not to freeze.

Electric heat tape may also be necessary, and if it is the commercial type and professionally installed, can be good option because it turns itself on only when it’s cold enough to be needed. For plumbing to a sink on an outside wall, opening the cabinet doors can help keep those pipes above freezing. Remember, never turn your heat off in your home or down below normal occupied temperatures during the possibility of freezing weather.

Simple Furnace Failures

Many residential furnace failures could be prevented by annual professional maintenance. Pre-season maintenance by a professional does not guarantee there won’t be any problems, but it does ensure that the furnace is in proper and safe working order. Regular maintenance can also reduce the likelihood of no-heat conditions.

One item critical to furnace performance is the filter. If the filter isn’t properly maintained according to factory specs, it can be extremely hard on your equipment and can cause other damage. The furnace becomes less efficient and could stop working altogether. Filters causing no-heat conditions are common in rentals and ultimately increase the cost of repairs and early failure of the furnace. For rentals I like to stress the importance of maintenance and have the HVAC contractor bring a new filter, so that at least once a year the filter is being monitored and replaced during maintenance (although most filters will need replacement every 3-months).

Dewatering Pumps

Dewatering pumps should be checked annually. Thought should be given to the property damage that might occur if the pump fails. Is there a backup system? Is there an alarm? If not, it’s even more crucial that the pump be checked pre-season and periodically throughout the rainy season. Winter weather will be here soon enough. What happens when the heat goes out…depends on you. We’ll be prepared. We hope you will too.

 

Bruce Davis Jr.

General Manager

Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating, Inc.

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