General Information

Preparing For Freezing Weather

When it looks like we are about to get into some freezing weather, the first thought that comes to mind is if you have adequately protected your home.  You may have some special considerations for your home, depending upon what systems you have and how they are configured; however, this should get you moving in the right direction.  Whether a system needs protection beyond these recommendations is beyond the scope of this document, so be sure to consult with your plumber or other professional who is familiar with your system and needs.

The needed degree of protection will be very dependent upon the age of your home, (and thus the quality of built-in protection), as well as the temperatures and the duration of the low temperatures expected.

Probably the most urgent need that comes to mind is protection of the pipes in your home.  This may be less of a concern in newer construction where the pipes are normally more thoroughly protected.  In general, you want the pipes to be sufficiently protected to prevent loss of heat so they don’t get so cold they freeze.  In older homes, this may include the need to insure the pipes at the attic, outside fixtures, crawlspace, and garage are protected because, frequently, they are not.  Don’t forget locations such as outdoor kitchens or quarters.  In very old homes where insulation may not exist in the walls containing pipes, and depending upon how cold it is expected to get, this may be more of a problem.

Secondary to the pipes in your home is plumbing in your yard such as pools, fountains, sprinklers, etc.  These should be protected and are much more vulnerable to freezing since they rely mainly on the energy from the ground for protection.  Running pumps for pools or fountains where the water can take on energy from the ground to keep it above freezing can be effective if it can be assured that all plumbing is in use.  Where this cannot be assured, insulation should be applied with care that pumps are kept free of obstructions, which could affect proper cooling.  Sprinkler systems should have exposed plumbing well insulated.

If you must leave your home unoccupied for an extended period during the freeze, consider leaving on the heat sufficient to prevent freezing of the water at the fixtures and at the walls and attic.  If you cannot do this, then winterize the house by draining the water from the plumbing system and adding an antifreeze to plumbing traps.

Be sure your heating systems are in good and safe operating conditions.  By this time you may have already had them checked and have been running them.  If not, plan to have your winter service to be sure the equipment is safe to run.

Before the Freeze

  • Protect faucets, outdoor pipes, and exposed pipes in unheated areas
      • By wrapping them with rags, newspaper, trash bags, or plastic foam.
      • If you are unsure about the potential for freezing of pipes at your crawlspace, assuming you have one, cover any vents around your home’s foundation.  This should only be temporary and should be removed as soon as possible.
      • Protect outdoor electrical pumps.
      • Leave them running during freezing conditions to keep water circulating through the ground.  If the system is totally above ground, then drain it.
      • If you have a pool, keep the pumps running and leave your valves set so that you have water flowing through all the pipes.  If this is not possible, insulate the system.
      • Keep fountains running if the pipes are underground.  If all the plumbing is above ground, drain them.
      • Protect well equipment.
      • Drain water sprinkler supply lines where they are above ground.
  • Set your thermostat at a minimum temperature of 55 degrees, especially when you’re gone for the day or away for an extended period.
  • Make sure you know where your home’s shutoff valve is and how to turn it on and off.  If you are relying on the street valve, be sure to have a tool to turn it.  You may want to make sure the valve works and is not stuck as they are infrequently used.
  • You should also cover the pipes in the attic if they are exposed because it can get cold enough to freeze there.
  • Drip the water at your faucets if they are suspected to not be well protected at the attic space or outdoor fixtures.  The theory here is to insure the continuous transfer of heat from the ground into the plumbing system, so this may be less effective on fixtures poorly protected and a great distance from the water supply.

If you must leave your house:

  • Consider turning off your water at the shutoff valve while faucets are running to drain your pipes. Make sure you turn the faucets off before you turn the shutoff valve back on.
  • Use potable antifreeze in the drain traps of fixtures such as toilets and sinks.  The antifreeze should be able to be flushed down the drain when the fixture is put back into use.
  • If you drain your pipes, you will need to turn off your water heater and drain it when extended freezing weather is expected.
  • Set your thermostat at a minimum temperature of 55 degrees, especially when you’re gone for the day or away for an extended period.

If Your Pipes Freeze

  • If a pipe bursts and floods your home, turn the water off at the shutoff valve (street).  Call a plumber for help if you can’t find the broken pipe or if it’s inaccessible.  Don’t turn the water back on until the pipe has been repaired.
  • If the pipe hasn’t burst, thaw it out with an electric heating pad, hair dryer, portable space heater, or towel soaked with hot water. Apply heat by slowly moving the heat source toward the coldest spot on the pipe. Never concentrate heat in one spot because cracking ice can shatter a pipe. Turn the faucet on and let it run until the pipe is thawed and water pressure returns to normal.
  • Don’t use a blowtorch or other open-flame device. They are fire risks and carbon monoxide exposure risks.


Does your inspector have the credentials they claim?

Did you know that not all contractors have the credentials they claim to have, including inspectors?  This raises the question as to how to check on the credentials of the person providing your inspection services.  Aside from state licensing agencies, it appears there is little in the way of tools to quickly and cheaply verify a contractor’s credentials.  Although may list them such verification is often not provided by trade associations or business affiliation and, thus, relies on a buyer’s own due diligence to investigate.

If you Hire an Engineer
If you hire an engineer to provide your inspection as an engineer then they should be licensed by the Texas Board of Professional Engineers and should be able to provide you with a license number.  In Texas, an individual cannot hold themselves out as an “Engineer” or provide “Engineering Services” without a valid license or without a firm registration.  The board has set up access to a search tool on their web site which allows you to check the existence and status of an individual or company’s licensure status.  These credentials can be verified online at:

Search Texas Board of Professional Engineers Licensure

If you Hire a TREC Inspector

If you have hired an inspector licensed by the Texas Real Estate Commission, you can visit their site and do a search for your inspector based upon their license number.  This will give you information on the status of a TREC inspector’s license.  If you have interest, you can also do a search of Realtor license numbers.  When doing your search be sure you select the correct search database with the options selection since Realtor and inspector databases are searched independently.  Incorrectly selecting a box will result in a blank search result.

Search TREC Licensure (page is slow)

Be careful of how an individual’s credentials are presented.  There are some TREC inspectors who may claim they have an engineering background or a degree in engineering, with no way to verify this information.  If an individual does not claim to be an “engineer” but only claims to have engineering education, they can elude the engineering boards’ interest.  There is no easy way to verify education credentials without doing a costly background check, and most schools in Texas do not appear to directly verify attendance or to pursue those who may misrepresent their school record.  Some degreed engineers will keep a copy of their transcripts for review, but I suspect this is rare.

Cleaning of Hot Tubs

Over the years I have inspected a number of whirlpool tubs in homes.  The ones I typically see are have been used for years and often when they are turned on debris are ejected out of the jets as a result of organic growth in the plumbing system.   This almost always prompts my clients to question how tubs should be cleaned.

Most manufacturers provide specifications for cleaning.  As a result of questions I have gotten on this subject I have prepared a list of informational links and documents on this page.  If you have comments or further information please submit them either through your account or on the "Contact Us" page and I will be glad to include useful information.


A Risky Soaking: Study Shows Whirlpool Water Can Be Dangerous

Microbial Loads in Whirlpool Bathtubs:An Emerging Health Risk

ASHI - Bacterial Hazards Whirlpool Baths

Tips on Choosing a Contractor

by: Jessy Norman

Whatever your home improvement needs - large or small - you need a professional contractor you can trust. A contractor who will provide you with sound advice on products, reasonable explanation of procedures, and, most important solid results. It's difficult to determine the capabilities and reliability of a contractor. That's why this was prepared - a simple, step-by-step guide designed to help you find the contractor right for you.

Step 1: where to begin

Any home improvement is a complex combination of elements, the success of which depends on the quality of materials, installation, and over-all construction. There are many ways to start your search for the contractor who meets your individual needs. Referrals are obviously the best source for names of credible companies. Ask friends and family members who they have used in the past. Contact your local chamber of commerce about contractors who are active in the community The Better Business Bureau, state and local licensing authorities, local trade associations, and your local yellow page directory are also excellent sources of information. Also, local suppliers of building products.

STEP 2: meeting and evaluating potential contractors

After you have compiled a list of possible contractors, take time to evaluate each one carefully A professional contractor will be happy to provide any information you may require. Many homeowners have been mystified by the seeming lack of interest and response from the contractors they call. To get a contractor to respond to your call, tell him you are shopping around, but are only interviewing three contractors, not ten. A contractor is shopping for good jobs that will make a fair profit and bring future referrals. Many contractors have had experiences with unreasonable or dishonest homeowners. Therefore, they look for warning signs of customer problems during the initial job interview.

Set up a meeting to discuss your needs and their qualifications, and be sure to pay close attention to the attitude of the company representative. Good contractors take pride in their work and will be enthusiastic about the possibility of helping you with your problems. If you feel confident that the contractor is truly interested in your project, ask for the company's vital statistics - specific business information which will help you make your final decision.

Business Name and Address: A good, professional contractor will provide the telephone number. These are essential when checking on the company's previous business dealings.
Experience: The training and experience of a contractor, as well as the age of his or her company, will help you determine its ability to successfully complete your project.
Licensing/Bonding: Some states require special licensing for contractors. Ask for business license numbers and information on the company that bonds the contractor. Then check with local authorities to see that the company complies with regulations.
Insurance Coverage: A contractor should carry worker's compensation and general liability insurance. Request the name and address of the insurance carrier, along with a copy of the company's insurance certificate. Beware of low bids which are a result of incomplete insurance coverage and workmen's compensation.
Professional References: Your contractor's past can help determine your future.Ask for credit references, banking information, and a list of completed projects including the names and telephone numbers of previous clients.
Company Philosophy: Discuss application techniques and workmanship guarantees. Does the contractor stand behind his work?

 Step 3: utilizing the contractor's product knowledge

Your contractor should have up-to-date knowledge on quality products for your project. He or she is the best source of information, but you should play an active role in the product selection process. Ask questions about different materials Such as brand names, life span, thickness, design, available colors and warranties. Selecting the best products is as important to your job as selecting the right contractor.

Step 4: Understanding and negotiating the contract

Prior to drafting a contract, most contractors will provide you with either an estimate or a proposal. An estimate typically provides a single price, a generically described product, a color, and no options. A proposal offers more detail with a choice of products by brand name, prices, services, and designs. A proposal will normally offer options good, better and best - and include product samples and literature. A contractor who takes the time to prepare a good proposal will most likely do a more thorough job. All items to be accomplished should be written as part of your contract. Get it in writing. Beware of verbal promises. When a contract is presented, it should spell out the proposed work, prices, and completion date. Read the contract carefully Misunderstandings are the most common cause of contract disputes. Pay special attention to be certain that at least the following points are covered in the contract. Building permits - what's necessary? Consider local ordinances, costs, posting requirements. Start and completion dates - including plan of action in case of weather delays. Products materials - what will be used, brands, colors, etc. Protect Inspections and number of inspections, completion timetable Site procedures - work hours, clean-up procedures on and around your home, safety precautions, etc. Warranties - including both workmanship and product. Terms - detailed -as method and timing of payment to include a lien waiver upon final payment.

Liens - you should be aware that under the laws of most states, a contractor who does work on your home, or a supplier of materials for such work, has a right to place a lien on your property Make sure all essential elements of your agreement are written down and understood by both parties.

Also, require the contractor to inform you of who his supplier will be along with any subcontractors that will be used on the job. Either pay them yourself or require that you have a receipt showing they have been paid before paying your contractor.

Right-to-rescind - providing the right to cancel the contract without penalty within a set period of time (usually three days).

Step 5: sit back and relax

A little well-planned research up front will undoubtedly save you a lot of time and trouble later on. Once you feel confident that you have the best contractor, the best products, and the best value simply relax and let your contractor do his job. Do, however monitor the progress of your project to be certain your contractor lives up to his superior reputation. Hopefully this information will simplify the task of choosing a professional contractor.

Jessie Srader is a Houston roofing contractor A special thanks for sharing this information and making it available.

From the June 1997 issue of "The ASHI Reporter"

PASS ALONG: ASHI Members and Candidates are welcome to duplicate this and pass it along to their customers, when a appropriate. However, the material should not be edited or otherwise amended in any other, fashion, and credit should be given to the author and to the Reporter.
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