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Experts: Get ready now for chilly weather

Gary Freeman, a mechanic with the DeKalb streets department, performs a routine maintenance check Tuesday on one of the department's vehicles while preparing the city fleet for the winter season.
Gary Freeman, a mechanic with the DeKalb streets department, performs a routine maintenance check Tuesday on one of the department's vehicles while preparing the city fleet for the winter season.
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DeKALB – As the temperatures outside drop, many experts said the best way to avoid catastrophes on the road or at home is to prepare ahead of time.

In fact, they advised taking certain steps that can save time and, in some cases, a lot of money.

Gregory Freeman, owner of All-Star Heating in DeKalb, and Mark Carpenter, co-owner of Ben Franklin Plumbing in DeKalb, each recommended that homeowners have their HVAC and water heaters inspected on a regular basis.

“You’re going to get the best performance out of the system,” Freeman said of regular checks on heating and air-conditioning systems. “It prolongs the life of the equipment and reduces the opportunity for a service call where it costs more money for the repairs.”

Carpenter said homeowners should flush their water heaters every six months to a year to prevent sediment buildup. Accumulated sediment can damage the water heater, in addition to other pipes and fixtures.

“A lot of people just don’t do it,” Carpenter said. “A lot of people wind up replacing their water heaters, their pipes and fixtures. Others have to re-pipe their homes.”

Freeman recommended having air filters replaced every 30 to 60 days, depending on the air system and the filter. A dirty air filter can restrict airflow, causing the furnace to overheat and damage parts in it.

But there are some things homeowners shouldn’t do to heat their houses. The DeKalb Fire Department advises to use space heaters that have an emergency shut off in case they are tipped over. The department also recommends having furnaces and chimneys inspected annually and cleaned if necessary.

Apartment renters, by virtue of their position, cannot wholly inspect the infrastructure of their home without the landlord. Both Freeman and Carpenter said renters should talk to their landlord about their concerns.

Carpenter added that renters can run water if the temperature has been below zero for several days in an effort to prevent the pipes from freezing and breaking.

“It’s one of the biggest insurance claims there is,” Carpenter said, in regards to water.

Carpenter said both homeowners and renters can wrap heat tape and insulation around exposed pipes to reduce the danger of freezing pipes. The fire department recommended using hot water or an Underwriters Laboratories-labeled item to thaw frozen pipes, and not an open flame like a blow torch.

DeKalb Public Works Director T.J. Moore said for weeks, the city has been spreading a de-icing agent that’s a mixture of salt, water, and beet juice. Moore said the agent prevents ice from forming on asphalt. He added that because of last year’s mild winter, they have plenty of salt.

Moore advised drivers to not pass plow trucks on the road, and to really, stay away from them as much as possible.

“You never know when it will kick up something,” Moore said.

Both Moore and DeKalb Fire Chief Eric Hicks recommended having emergency kits inside cars. These kits should include blankets, bottles of water, and a cellphone charger. The kits are there for the worst case scenario: getting stuck in the snow and waiting for help to come.

“It’s smart to know it’s there, and that you have access to that,” Moore said.

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