Tips to keep your home safe during cold weather

Analicia Haynes and Hannah Shillo, Senior Reporter and Associate News Editor

There are several tips students living on and off campus can utilize when it comes to taking care of their homes as the weather drops into single digits.

Jim Wood, realtor and owner of Wood Rentals, said he sends mail notifications to his tenants with a list of things to do and not to do in the winter.

Wood said while there is a list of things to remember, the most important thing to remember is to keep the heat on.

Turning the temperature on the thermostat down is acceptable, Wood said, but the heat should stay on during the frigid temperatures outside.

“A lot of people think it’s no big deal and turn it off, well if we have a real bad cold snap like the last 48 hours where it turned real bitter, you’ll have frozen pipes,” Wood said.

Terrika Price, a leasing agent at Eastern Illinois Properties, said a few key things she always tells her tenants include keeping the heat on, letting water drip from the faucets and salting the steps.

She said the average heat temperature that she tells her tenants to maintain their home at is 72 degrees.

In addition to that she said that she recommends that if tenants are leaving for days at a time to drip a very small amount of water from the faucets to prevent frozen pipes.

According to an article in The New York Times titled “If Winter Takes Aim at the Plumbing,” pipes burst when blockage grows along the length of the pipe and acts like a piston, causing elevated water pressure when a faucet is turned off.

In the article, William B. Rose, a senior researcher at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, was interviewed and said this is what causes the rupture.

“So, if you can relieve the pressure downstream of the blockage by allowing the tiniest little drip at the faucet, then the ice blockage can grow and it won’t rupture the pipe,” Rose said in the article.

According to the article if a pipe goes into a crawl space, or if it is close to an outside wall or vent, then it has the potential of bursting in really cold weather. 

That is why Price said letting water drip from the faucet helps prevent pipes from freezing. She also said students or tenants should keep their windows closed in below freezing temperatures because it will also lead to frozen pipes.

Wood said when frozen pipes thaw, they can burst and cause thousands of dollars in damage in the building and possibly to a tenant’s personal property.

He suggested to set the thermostat at 50 degrees Fahrenheit if tenants are leaving for a break, but he warned not to go any lower than that.

“When I have an empty apartment that’s what I’ll set it on,” Wood said. “I’m just a little skittish about putting it clear down to 40 (degrees). If it’s really bitter and there’s some kind of an air leak somewhere then you might have a frozen pipe, but 50 degrees is probably a good number.”

Housing and Dining Director Mark Hudson said there are some things students living on campus do not have to worry about such as letting the water run or making sure the heat is on.

But he said the key thing that students living on campus have in common with students living off campus is that if they leave their windows open, even just a little, for a long period of time that could pose a risk for the residence halls pipes.

According to The New York Times article, hot water pipes are more likely to burst when exposed to extremely cold air.

In the article, Rose said it usually takes more than cold temperatures to freeze a pipe, more typically really cold temperatures, and cold wind blowing on it will do the job.

Hudson said this is the case when multiple students leave their windows open. If the cold air hits the hot water pipes, they could freeze and potentially burst.

Hudson said students might not realize this impact cold weather has on a building when the windows are left open.

“So, just don’t leave your windows open,” he said.

He also said students might not realize that they will be responsible for those types of damages created from leaving a window open, which could result in owing a lot of money.

Each winter, though, Wood said he gets the inevitable call that one of his tenants has had a pipe burst in their residence.

“Many times, someone is home and they catch it right away,” he said. “You’ll have a little bit of a cleanup mess but it’s not a big deal other than the cost of repairing the pipe.”

He said the first thing tenants should do when they notice a burst pipe is to shut the water off immediately, so tenants should be aware of where the main shut off is for their residences.

Once the water has been shut off, Wood said to notify the landlord.

“Water is the enemy of the landlord,” Wood said. “It comes from all different directions.”

Another thing Wood said tenants should be aware of in the winter is based on their heating.

If tenants have baseboard heaters, usually in a horizontal metal box attached to walls, they should be cautious when arranging the room layout.

He said tenants should refrain from putting their bedding or any kind of fabric near the heaters. Price also said tenants should not place anything in front of heaters.

“That’s safe heating except if you put fabric right on top of it and have the heat turned on, it could start a fire,” Wood said.

Wood said those with gas-fired, forced air heat systems should make sure their carbon monoxide detectors are up and running.

He said tenants are usually responsible for maintaining a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector during the time they rent out their residences.

“If the furnace is defective and emits carbon monoxide into the apartment, that’s deadly and you won’t smell it,” Wood said. “It just kills you, so that’s something to watch out for.”

In addition to making sure windows stay closed, Hudson said students should remember to look down and pay attention to where they are walking.

He said even though the grounds crew on campus shoveled and salted most of campus, there is still a chance of slipping on ice and getting hurt.

“There are a lot of miles of sidewalk on this campus,” Hudson said. “There might be some slippery spots.”

Analicia Haynes and Hannah Shillo can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]