Letter Re: Lessons From The Polar Vortex Invasion

Dear Mr. Rawles,

This week has been a wake-up call for me. Living in the Deep South, I have never worried too much about being too cold. We have made quilts and have had many quilts passed down to us when my wife and I married. We had more quilts given to us when our daughter was born. But, our electric heat pump loses its efficiencies when the temperature is below freezing. Using natural gas is not cheap and the price varies based on the economic principals of supply and demand. We have never had to worry about our pets as we place extra straw in their houses. I have always checked my vehicle’s anti-freeze and thought if it gets down to zero degrees F, I would just stay home.

Then the bitter cold [from the Polar Vortex] ravaged the South.

Lesson 1: Piling on too many quilts can get heavy and the heat pump cannot keep up with the house’s demand. My wife’s sinuses have dried out from running the natural gas backup. I will have a wood burning stove added soon and will cut wood. I will [continuously] use a cast iron tea pot [on the wood stove] to put humidity back in the air.

Lesson 2: The dog and cat are staying inside. I even brought my dog to my office so she can use the facilities. I am blessed to have an office with a gated back area where she can exercise and do her jobs. She is also trained to only go on guard with a key word. I have a very safe feeling with her at my office. In my line of work, I work late nights from mid-January thru the end of April. I have always been reserved working late at night during this time of year. But, I keep my guard up. That may include having my dog with me this year.

Lesson 3: I will make it so the dog and cat can be comfortable outside without disrupting our schedule. I will have to study on this to come up with some practical ideas.

Lesson 4: Better prepare our vehicles for what is to come. I thought I would get one more summer out of this set of tires. They are not real good for snow or ice but work great in rainy conditions. I will have a set of “take-off” tires which I screw some small sheet metal screws into to act as ice cleats if needed.

Lesson 5: Know how your insurance works. I did not have any pipes to freeze; praises to God! But I went to lunch with an agent and talked about what insurance covers. Insurance does not cover the broken pipe, but will cover damage caused by the pipe. So it will pay to re-do your home but not pay to re-plumb your home. It can pay for you live somewhere else while your home is being redone. Talk to an agent in your area.

Lesson 6: If you have water pipes in your ceiling, insulate, insulate, insulate. Several businesses with pipes in the ceiling froze and burst. So many are closed and undergoing remodeling.

Living in the Deep South, I worry more about heat and rain rather than cold and snow, but this has shown me that any part of the US could be susceptible to any type of weather. We never lost power, but we need more options for heating. – Anonymous in The South

JWR Replies: I wholeheartedly agree about insulating houses. Don’t forget that it helps with both cold and hot weather!