freeze-ready

Houston experts share best ways to protect your home, car, pets, and plants from the upcoming freeze

Houston experts on protecting home, pets, and plants from the freeze

Heights house in snow 2021
Houston has seen snow again. Photo by Tyler Horne

As local temperatures plummet to lows not seen in decades, Houstonians are scrambling to prepare for a potential snow, ice, and a serious freeze. (Monday, February 15 is expected to see a low of below 10 degrees, to say nothing of the wind chill effect.)

Conventional wisdom suggests preparing for the four Ps: people, pets, pipes, plants. But Houston is a car town, and thus getting the ride ready for the plunging temps is also crucial.

With that in mind, CultureMap enlisted some local experts to assist harried Houstonians prep for our sudden freeze. Some tips are elementary, some are refreshers, and some offer how-to tutorials.

People
Obviously, residents are advised to stay indoors as much as possible (except those northern-born Newstonians for whom this freeze is old hat). But what about those without shelter? Area nonprofit The Beacon reports that it is currently accepting in-kind donations for homeless Houstonians.

Meanwhile, Catherine Villarreal of Coalition for the Homeless tells CultureMap that the organization is ensuring that “unsheltered people are aware of the anticipated arctic blast,” and is handing out blankets and other cold weather gear. The City of Houston plans to open the George R. Brown Convention Center this weekend to provide a warm and safe place as temperatures continue to plummet, CultureMap new partner ABC13 reports.

She also recommends that concerned locals donate to these nonprofits:

Pets
Sadly, animals — especially dogs and cats — suffer brutally during extreme temps. “When the temperature drops, the absolute best thing you can do for your pet is to bring them inside — remember, dogs and cats can get frostbite and hypothermia just like humans,” Tena Lundquist Faust, co-president of Houston PetSet, tells CultureMap.

“If you are unable to do that, providing your pet with shelter, like a dog house lined with straw or hay, will help block the wind and potentially snow.”

Tama Lundquist, co-president of Houston PetSet, tells Houstonians who witness animal abuse or a dog cruelly chained or tethered outside in the elements to contact their law enforcement agency or file a report with the Harris County Animal Cruelty Taskforce online — or call 832-927-PAWS.

Pipes
Freezing temperatures and icy winds can wreak havoc on plumbing. John Eccles of Nick's Plumbing reminds locals to wrap outside piping (called a riser) with insulation or even an old towel and some handy duct tape, then cover with a trash bag.

But his “enemy No. 1” is the yard sprinkler backflow preventer. Water trapped inside the sprinkler system pipes can ice up during a long freeze, causing underground pipes to burst and resulting in hundreds or even thousands of dollars in repair.

Not sure how to drain the system? Eccles offers a quick video tutorial for CultureMap readers on how to drain a sprinkler backflow here.

Inside, Eccles advises to let faucets trickle (to ensure constant flow), as well as opening sink cabinets to allow ambient home heat to warm indoor piping.

Plants
Those with a green thumb have no doubt tended to their floral family. For those who need a little help, Zach Buchanan, owner of Buchanan’s Native Plants in The Heights, offers some tips. Rain, he says, will help hydrate plants. Expect a somber scene the morning after the freeze.

“The top of the plant may die, but that doesn't mean the plant is necessarily dead,” says Buchanan, who adds that owners shouldn’t necessarily rip out plants that seem “brown and dead,” as they may regenerate in the spring.

Adding incandescent lights under the blankets which will raise the temperatures on the ground and around the plant, he notes. Then, cover with frost cloth or blankets. Buchanan advises against plastic, as it can burn leaves, unless it’s on top of the blankets. “But it’s best just to avoid plastic,” he adds.

If time, Buchanan says mulching flower beds adds extra insulation for plants and helps guarantee a spring return.

Car care
Car batteries and engine blocks are highly susceptible to freezing temps. Fred Garcia of Auto Best in Midtown advises locals to check antifreeze levels and replace as necessary. (Most cars will emit a warning chime or signal.) Make sure windshield wiper fluid — not water — is in the reservoir to avoid freezes.

Also, ensure your battery is strong and up-to-date. “Weak batteries aren’t going to make it in freezing weather,” says Garcia. “It drains a battery quickly.”

When finally starting the car after the freeze, Garcia advises letting the engine run for “a solid three to five minutes” to cycle fluids and warm engine components before driving.