BBB Advice: Prepare For Bitter Cold

January 06, 2014
people walking through trees in snowWith the coldest temperatures in twenty years forecast for the next couple of days, Better Business Bureau has advice that can help you prepare for the weather and cope with any emergencies.

BBB also warns that severe cold can cause pipes to burst, especially if they are poorly insulated or your heating system isn’t working right. Vehicle breakdowns can also be especially grueling if you don’t have an emergency kit to deal with snow or ice and a blanket to keep you warm.

Be prepared for blizzards, blackouts and other winter storm-related problems by keeping important supplies in one place.  An emergency kit should contain bottled water, a first aid kit, battery-operated radio, fresh batteries, candles, matches and non-perishable food.  BBB recommends assembling a similar kit for the car, complete with blankets, extra gloves, a shovel and salt or snow-melting chemicals.

BBB can help you find a trustworthy contractor to repair your heating system or deal with frozen pipes and the damage they can cause. You can check contractors out by searching for their BBB Business Review at or by calling 330-253-4590.

Get bids from several contractors, if possible, and make sure you read and understand the contract with anyone you hire to make repairs. Get any promises in writing, and do not pay the full amount for the service until it is complete and you are satisfied. Ask about the company’s insurance and licensing, and ask whether any permits are needed to make repairs or install new equipment.

BBB’s cold weather checklist includes:
  • Furnace checkup and cleaning: Clean or replace your furnace’s air filters. Have a professional check the furnace and ensure that the thermostat and other parts are working properly.  A typical home furnace reaches the end of its useful life after 15 years and may need repair or replacement. A programmable thermostat can save energy and money by reducing temperatures at night or when you’re away from home.
  • Consider insulating heating ducts: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that a centrally-heated home can lose as much as 60 percent of warmed air before it reaches vents if the ductwork is poorly connected, not insulated, or if it travels through unheated spaces.  Use a vacuum cleaner to remove dust and dirt from vents.
  • Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors: Homeowners should routinely test these devices to make sure they work and install fresh batteries as needed.  Detector units should be replaced every 10 years.
  • Use care with space heaters and generators. Ventilation is vital, especially with generators and heaters that use kerosene or other fossil fuels. Provide space around heaters make sure that blankets or other combustible items are not in contact with heaters. Read instructions carefully before you fire up a heater or generator.
  • Plug holes: The average American home may have many small air leaks. Though they may not be large, they have a cumulative effect on home heating costs. Make sure windows close tightly. Check for leaks around them, and use caulking to plug the leaks. Inspect all weather stripping for cracks and peeling.  In addition, consider applying insulating film to drafty windows, and install a tight-fitting fireplace door or cover to stop a day-long loss of heat through the chimney.
  • Final preparations: Test your snow blower to find out whether there is a problem now rather than waiting until a storm hits. Prepare your snow-clearing equipment, such as shovels, salt or other ice-melting products. Finally, don’t forget to drain outside faucets and remove hoses to prevent the pipes from freezing.
  • Car checkup: Make sure you have ice scrapers, blankets and other cold-weather gear in your car. Have a mechanic check fluid levels, including the coolant, to be sure reservoirs are full and able to withstand freezing temperatures. Do windshield wipers need to be replaced?  Are defrosters and heaters working? Is there enough tread left on the tires for safe driving? Are they inflated properly?

Check a company’sBBB Business Review by going to or by calling 330-253-4590.