Last week, I shared a sampling of the many emails I received from readers who lived through the Texas freeze in February. So many people wrote with excellent and surprising tips that I wanted to devote one more column to sharing their experiences, as I feel that we can all learn from this situation to be better prepared for future storms or power outages.
DEAR JILL: It became very clear to me during the ice and snowstorm that far too few people in our neighborhood are familiar with the main systems in their homes and how to shut them off. We woke up that Monday morning with no power or heat, and our houses are not built the way they are up North to keep heat in, so I was worried about pipes freezing. I closed all the drains and caught water in the sinks and bathtub and filled every container we had to store water in. Then I turned the water off at the main shutoff inside the house and then opened the bathtub faucet again to drain out what water was left in the pipes.
I also drained our water heater as we have a tank style. In talking to my neighbors, though, most of them had no idea how to do any of these things. It really is important to know how every system in the house operates and how to disable and re-enable them so that you can do it in a situation like this.
At one point the gas in our neighborhood came back on but the electricity had not. Another neighbor had no idea you could light the burners on a gas range manually by striking a match, holding it to the burner, and then opening the burner. Once lit, use a cast iron pan to cook as it will retain heat after you turn the burner off and heat the room a little more. — Joe W.
DEAR JILL: Everyone should know how to make a rocket stove. It only takes about $10 worth of bricks stacked in formation outside on your patio or driveway (needs no mortar.) This little cooking stove boils water in five minutes.
It is a simple design that burns quickly with any small pieces of wood you have. You don’t need to have firewood or logs. We burned everything from take-out chopsticks to leftover wood scraps and cardboard.
You can find directions on YouTube by searching “Better Rocket Stove.” We built one out of patio pavers. Fire-rated bricks would be better to resist cracking, but we used what we had. — Warner L.
DEAR JILL: Some hints for dealing with winter power and heat outages:
If the heat is out and the house is cold, make your sleeping area as small as possible. I read online to use a smaller camping tent indoors in the house. We placed our pop-up tent on top of our king-sized bed and still slept in the bedroom, but our body heat was kept much closer to us in the smaller space and we stayed warm.
When the electricity and heat came back on but the water didn’t, we bucketed snow into the bathtub. Once it melted, we used the water to flush the toilet. — Miranda K.
I appreciate all of the experiences that people shared during this challenging experience. No matter where we live, we should all prepare for the possibility of losing power and heat. Many other readers recommended having generators on hand, which they used to power space heaters or fans to move fireplace heat throughout their homes.
Our family keeps a plastic tote in our pantry with all of our disaster supplies. It includes matches, lighters, candles, batteries, flashlights and a hand-crank radio capable of receiving weather updates. It’s comforting to know that all of these things are in one place if we need them — keeping these items together in a known location is a simple idea that I recommend everyone consider, as a minimum, to prepare for the unexpected.