Options are few to keep pipes, people warm during power outages

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Stacy Vogel
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
— Power outages and extreme cold could make for dangerous situations tonight and Thursday.

About 9,500 Alliant Energy customers in Rock County lost power Wednesday morning, spokesman Scott Reigstad said. Three out of four of those customers lived in Janesville.

By 3 p.m., the total was down to fewer than 4,300.

As of 1:30 p.m., 800 Rock Energy Cooperative customers remained without power.

But forecasters expected temperatures to drop drastically tonight with high winds and another inch of snow or more.

“If we get all that, we could be back where we started,” Reigstad said.

The good news is homeowners shouldn’t have to worry too much about pipes freezing, local plumbers said.

“It’s got to get cold for a long time before things start freezing up,” said Craig DeGarmo, owner of DeGarmo Plumbing, Janesville. “Even if it’s down to 50 or 40 in the house, it’s still not freezing.”

To keep pipes warm if the heat is off, DeGarmo recommended people who use city water the water run occasionally.

“The water in the ground in the pipes is above freezing, and that’ll keep the water running,” he said.

When you go to bed, leave a small trickle running, he said.

That trick won’t work for people who have their own well, however. Without electricity, the well pump won’t work.

If you’re really concerned about pipes freezing, you can drain them, said John Husen, owner of Lenz Plumbing & Heating, Janesville. Turn off the water main and then turn on the faucets to let out the remaining water.

Husen and DeGarmo also recommended making sure outdoor hoses are disconnected and plugging up drafts in the home.

The biggest warning sign that your pipes are freezing is low water pressure, Husen said.

Keeping warm

There aren’t many safe options for keeping warm when the heat goes out, said Bill Ruchti, Janesville Fire Department shift commander.

Many heat-generating devices—including charcoal grills, propane heaters and most generators— are meant to be used outside and will build up a dangerous amount of fumes inside, he said.

Some generators hook up to the furnace, but those must be installed by a certified electrician, Ruchti said.

Kerosene heaters are OK for indoors as long as you’re careful, he said.

Dave’s Ace Hardware in Milton doesn’t sell anything besides kerosene heaters to help keep your home warm when you don’t have heat, owner Dave Warren said.

“We have Snuggies…” he said, referring to the as-seen-on-TV blankets with sleeves.

You can use a wood-burning stove or fireplace to help heat your home as long as it’s properly maintained and the chimney is clean, Ruchti said.

Don’t go to sleep with the fire going, and don’t shut the dampers while a fire still is smoldering, he said.

If you have a gas fireplace with an electric starter, check your manual or call your installer to see if you can start it manually.

Bottom line: Use common sense and make sure you have a working carbon monoxide alarm, he said.

Be safe when heating home

The Janesville Fire Department is used to carbon monoxide calls when the power goes out.

“Occasionally people do some things that maybe aren’t the smartest things,” Shift Commander Bill Ruchti said.

Most heat-generating devices are meant for outdoor use and build up dangerous fumes indoors, he said.

About the only appliances you can use to heat your home when the power is out are kerosene lamps, fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, he said.

Here are some things to never use for heat when the power goes out:

--Charcoal grills

--Propane heaters

--Most generators. Only generators meant for indoor use and installed by a certified electrician are safe to use inside.

--Gas stoves

--Blowtorches or open flames

Last updated: 12:13 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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