Weatherize or winterize your home | SierraSun.com

Weatherize or winterize your home

It's no secret, winter in North Lake Tahoe can be challenging. Luckily, with proper knowledge of your home and community resources you'll be prepared to handle whatever Mother Nature delivers this year.

"It all goes back to the facts of mountain living, we live in a high altitude environment, we have pretty dramatic swings in temperature, particularly in the winter. It can be very cold or not so cold, we get a lot of snow, rain and weather," said Steven Poncelet, public information officer and strategic affairs manager with the Truckee Donner Public Utility District.

Poncelet said there are things everyone living in the area should do to ensure a safe winter, giving you more time to enjoy the snow once it's under control.

"Whether you're a full-time resident or a second homeowner everybody should have an emergency or maintenance contact person. Everyone should close the air vents in their crawl space if they have them, insulate their pipes, and turn off their irrigation in the winter. There are a million things you could do to prepare, depending on the design of your home. Everybody should also protect those hose bibs — if your snow sheds on your hose bib it can rip it out of the wall — design is everything in mountain living," he said.

Below are Poncelet's top five tips for all residents to keep in mind before the big storms hit.

1. Power outages

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Despite PUD efforts to trim trees, during severe winter storms trees and branches do fall and sometimes cause power outages.

In order to prepare for these eventual outages, the PUD recommends having flashlights and candles readily available, as well as a way to provide heat, emergency supplies and batteries, including for your mobile phone, and extra fuel for snow blowers, generators and vehicles.

Backup generators will keep you from being without power and you have two options to choose from: portable generators that use extension cords or permanent generators that are wired into the home or a business' electric panel; take care in proper installation and use of any generator model. All gas or diesel generators must be operated outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.

2. Frozen pipes

Winterizing a home typically involves draining the water pipes and turning off the main water supply and turning off the heat to save energy and money. This is most commonly practiced with second homes or vacation rentals.

Take caution, keeping the heat on a low setting instead of turning it off will help prevent pipes from freezing as the home gets colder and colder over time.

A burst water pipe in a house can do significant damage and leaks outside of the home can result in the loss of tens of thousands of gallons of water per day.

Be sure you know what kind of water valve your home has: Is it a separate shut off valve and a drain valve, or a three-way valve?

Know where your valves are, how they work, and keep them accessible when the snow starts to pile up.

3. Know your home

The biggest piece of advice Poncelet can share is to understand what you have in your house and how it works. If you don't know how something works, it's best to hire a professional.

A few of the highest priority things to know are:

Whether you have a three-way water valve or a shut-off valve, and where it is located

What type of insulation is in your crawl space

Where your water meter is

Poncelet said there are two shut-off valves, one is the PUD distribution piping system that is sometimes located at the edge of the street or further on the home's lot. The meter box is located where the PUD water system ends and the customer's piping starts; and it's important to know where all of your water valves and your meter box are.

"If there is a leak between the meter box and the shut off valve of your house, then the only way to stop that is to go to the meter box. If it's under 8 feet of snow and you don't know where it is, it can be a great challenge," he said.

4. Pay attention to the weather

Poncelet said pipes are most likely to be damaged during a drastic weather change.

"When we have a really cold spell where the temperature could be zero degrees for a week, that's when you have your highest chance of freezing. And what happens is people won't know they have a leak until the pipes thaw, so that first spell of really warm weather in the 40s or 50s after some really cold weather — that's when it pops and we get notified of customers having these problems. It's really important to pay attention to the weather," he said.

5. Online account tools

The PUD offers several tools to homeowners and renters for managing utility bills, allowing the user to go online and view their water usage in real-time, to monitor potential leaks.

The district sends auto email alerts when they are notified of continuous flow alarms from local meters. In order to help them help you, go online and be sure that your contact information is up to date; it could save you a lot of time and money.

Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at cwalker@sierrasun.com, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.