Storm Preparations For the Boston Blizzard

Preparing for a storm can be tough because no one knows exactly what to expect. With regard to the impending Boston blizzard, here are a few ideas to help you stay on top of changing conditions.

Basics matter. In an emergency, you may be coping with a number of tough conditions, including the snow, poor road conditions, power outages, falling temperatures, frozen pipes or broken water mains and other things that are simply out of your control. But the good news is that a little advance planning can help you cope with these things.

• Make sure you have enough food to last 3-5 days. The stores may be open, but the roads may be closed. Having a stash of the basics (which includes food, water, basic first aid supplies and toilet paper) can help keep you safe and sound indoors.

• Plan to have a power outage. The power doesn’t always go out in a major storm, but ice and snow accumulations on overhead wires can cause localized power problems. Large snowfalls can also hamper repairs. Don’t attempt to clear snow or ice off of your home’s service lines, even if the lines are sagging low enough for you to do so. If the lines are very low to the ground, call your local utility company to report the problem.

Along the same lines, consider making an investment in a generator that is large enough to keep your major systems online. “Major systems” minimally include your heating equipment, water heater, refrigeration equipment, and sump pump. If the generator is large enough, you may also consider adding your cooking or other kitchen appliances to the list.

A safety note about generators: they’re strictly outdoor devices. They burn fuel, emit carbon monoxide and must be vented to the outside. Do not run a generator indoors, even for a short period of time. A qualified electrician can help you connect and disconnect a generator, and show you how to operate the device safely. Stock up on spare batteries and light sources, but exercise caution when using or carrying candles or open flames. Do not attempt to use a gas stove or oven as a heat source.

• Don’t forget your car. Sometimes in an emergency, you have to relocate. Make sure your car has a full gas tank and a full wiper fluid reservoir. Stock the car with blankets, a flashlight, a small shovel and non-perishable food for both people and pets. Prepare a gallon or so of fresh water, but don’t store this in the car, since it will freeze. Have it waiting by the door in case you need to move.

Finally, make sure your cell phone has a full charge, and if you don’t already have one, invest in a 12v charger. That will allow you to plug your cell phone into the convenience outlet (or the cigarette lighter) of your car to power your phone if the battery dies.

If you have to leave your home during the storm and you still have power, make sure your thermostat is set to no lower than 60°F to avoid frozen pipes while you are away.

If you encounter any problems with your home heating equipment or your plumbing, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. We offer round-the-clock emergency service throughout the Boston area.

Frozen! Staying Warm During Boston's Blizzard

The National Weather Service is predicting snowfall of between 2-3 feet for the Boston area between now and tomorrow. With predictions like that, this is prime time for furnace and heating problems, but taking a few extra precautions may help keep you warm and keep your furnace happy during what could be a historic snow event.

Keep your furnace running. This sounds like some obvious advice, but people tend to “dial down” their thermostats to save money on their fuel bills. While reducing consumption is good, a major, long-lasting snow event combined with temperatures well below freezing isn’t the time to save money.

A better approach is to keep the temperature in your home at or above 60° F. By not allowing the temperature in your home to free-fall, or to fall to a level lower than 60°F, you can help avoid frozen pipes in your walls, basements and crawlspaces. You can also bring your home back up to a comfortable temperature and maintain it more efficiently and less expensively.

If it makes you feel better, your furnace operates more efficiently when it runs regularly, and you’ll end up spending less money using this strategy than you will by shutting your furnace down when the temperature drops and the snow piles up. Speaking of snow piles…

Move your snow. If you have a furnace that direct-vents to the outside through your foundation wall, 3 feet of snow could obstruct both your intake and exhaust ports nicely. Remove all snow and ice accumulations from the intake and exhaust ports of your furnace and other gas appliances. (Don’t rely on the heat exhaust to melt the accumulating snow and ice!)

Maintain a 3′ space around the ports in all directions and check these ports regularly for obstructions. A blocked port can cause your furnace (or other gas appliance) to stall just when you need it most. It can also cause noxious fumes to collect in or around your living space.

The same is true for heat pump condensers. If you have a cold-climate heat pump (or its smaller, ductless mini-split cousin), you’ll need to keep the condenser unit very clear to ensure that the unit continues to work during the storm. Even the newest, most efficient heat pumps are not designed for these kinds of extraordinary events or for single-digit temperatures, so making sure the condenser is clear is essential for continued operation.

If you encounter problems with your furnace or heat pump during the storm, we offer 24/7 emergency service. Call us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 whenever you need assistance with your furnace or other gas appliance.