Saturday, October 25, 2014 · 2:59 p.m.

It's time to prepare homes for cold weather, officials say

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Now that cold weather has officially arrived, officials warn that staying warm and keeping pipes from freezing are priorities but to make sure that alternate heat sources don't cause more problems than they are solving. 

"The colder weather means many people will begin to heat their homes with fireplaces, woodstoves and space heaters," Julie Mix McPeak, state fire marshal, said in a prepared statement. "Cold weather months typically have a higher number of accidental fire injuries and deaths due to the use of these alternate heat sources.”

Tennessee American Water Company leaders remind homeowners that unprotected water pipes can freeze and burst—resulting in severe water damage and costly repairs—unless precautions are taken. 

"With the arrival of cold weather, Tennessee American Water encourages customers to weatherproof their homes to ensure their indoor and outdoor plumbing is protected from the freezing weather," Deron Allen, president of Tennessee American Water, said in a prepared statement. "If pipes are left in unprotected locations without insulation, ice can easily form inside the pipes. As the ice expands, the pipe will crack and eventually burst, leaving the customer with a costly repair bill and causing severe water damage to their home or business."

Both McPeak and Allen offered tips to stay safe from fires and protect homes from bursting pipes:

—Search your home for uninsulated pipes, especially in unheated areas, and wrap those pipes with electric heating tape (following manufacturers' instructions so as not to create a fire risk).

—Seal cracks in walls and foundations, especially where TV or phone lines enter the house, to keep cold winds away from pipes.

—If your home is heated by a hot water radiator, bleed the valves by opening them slightly, closing them when water appears.

—Make sure that the water to your hose bibs is shut off inside your house and that the lines are drained.

—Drain and shut off entirely the water to any unoccupied residence, like a summer/vacation home. 

—Set thermostats at 55 degrees if you are going out of town. This is a safe temperature for pipes.

—Wrap you water heater in an insulated blanket to lower your heating bills.

—Test smoke alarms before using a space heater or fireplace, as well as once a month.

—Space heaters need space, so they should never be placed within three feet of anything combustible, such as furniture, bedding or aerosol cans. Make sure your heater as a "UL" or "FM" mark to ensure it has been tested by independent testing labs.

—Never use extension cords with space heaters.

—Purchase surge protectors from reliable retailers. Some bargain retailers have sold lower-quality surge protectors that could potentially be dangerous.

—Make sure your chimney is professionally cleaned before using your fireplace because combustible materials can build up inside the flue.

—Any kerosene-fueled heating device should be installed with proper ventilation, and a portable kerosene heater should be filled only in a well-ventilated area. Additionally, you should only use the type of kerosene specified by the manufacturer. 

—Never leave any kind of fire, be it from a space heater or a candle or a fireplace, unattended.

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