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Bracing for the Next Polar Vortex: A Chicago Homeowner’s Guide

Bracing for the Next Polar Vortex: A Chicago Homeowner’s Guide

In recent years, Chicago, like many other American cities, has faced the growing challenge of the polar vortex. This meteorological phenomenon, known for its extremely low temperatures, has become a frequent occurrence in the Windy City. The last few winters, particularly those of 2022 and 2023, have shown that even areas as far south as Texas are not immune to the effects of this extreme weather pattern.

For Chicagoans, preparing for the next polar vortex is not just advisable; it’s crucial for the safety and well-being of your home and family. Here are essential steps to ensure you’re ready for the next deep freeze.

Smart Heating Strategies

In Chicago’s freezing winters, effective temperature management is vital. Keep your thermostat at about 68°F when home and above 60°F when out or asleep. This helps prevent pipes from freezing without overworking your heating system. Consider investing in a smart thermostat for better control and efficiency. Most utility providers in Chicago (such as ComEd, Nicor Gas, Peoples Cas, and North Shore Gas) offer incentives for installing such devices, which can reduce your heating costs in the long run. These can be anywhere from $20 off the purchase price or up to $120 in credits!

Preventing Ice Dams

Chicago’s fluctuating winter temperatures and lake-effect snow can lead to ice dams, a significant risk to your home’s structural integrity, and damage to your living spaces. That’s because ice dams can weigh hundreds or thousands of pounds, and when that big block of ice starts to melt, it turns into water. That’s a lot of water to have trapped on the roof, as it has ways of finding any imperfection in your home and leaking through it. It’s a mess and often requires calling an expert who can perform emergency ice dam removal services in Chicago to stop the damage.

To prevent this from happening, monitor your roof and gutters. Particularly the north side of your home and north-facing slopes, as they remain in the shade much longer (if not completely), extending their freeze. Regularly clear snow from your roof using a specialized roof broom or rake. This will not remove an existing ice dam, but it will help it thaw more naturally and remove additional snow from being added to the ice dam upon melting.

Lastly, you want to pay attention to attic insulation and seal any gaps where warm air might escape. These are known as “attic bypasses,” and they inadvertently allow heated interior air to escape into the cooler attic. This unnaturally warms the roof from below, creating the snowmelt trickle that contributes to the refreezing at the ice dam below.

Bracing for the Next Polar Vortex: A Chicago Homeowner’s Guide

Photo Courtersy: Joe Palumbo of Ice Dam Guys LLC

Pipe and Faucet Protection

Chicago’s harsh winters can challenge even the best-insulated homes. To prevent pipes from freezing, let your faucets drip and consider using a space heater in particularly vulnerable areas. Your interior fixtures should be ok since they have the majority of the house as insulation, but you’ll have to pay special attention to any sinks, faucets, or toilets that have their piping in an exterior wall. While we’d like to hope your home has adequate insulation, if there’s going to be an area that pushes it to the limit, it’ll be these exterior walls that are getting the brunt of the windchill. This may be where you need that space heater from time to time.

While you’re at it, ensure all outdoor spigots are covered with insulation wraps to provide extra protection against extreme temperatures. While your yard should already be winterized without water in the pipes, it doesn’t hurt being redundant.

Managing Indoor Humidity

In Chicago, managing indoor humidity during the winter is crucial. High humidity can lead to frost and ice on windows, causing water damage once it melts. Aim to keep indoor humidity below 10% during extreme cold spells. This helps prevent window condensation and protects your home from potential water damage. Depending on your situation, you may need an in-home air dehumidifier to keep that moisture low enough.

Ideally, you bought a smart thermostat like we mentioned above, and fortunately, almost all of those have humidity gauges built into them for easy updates and monitoring.

Carbon Monoxide and Fire Safety

With the increased use of heating devices during a polar vortex, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning rises. Ensure that chimneys and vents are clear of snow and ice, which can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside your home. Install carbon monoxide detectors in key areas, avoiding the kitchen and garage areas to reduce false alarms.

Also, keep a fire extinguisher handy, especially if you use space heaters. Never leave heaters unattended, and maintain a safe distance from flammable materials.

Prepare for Power Loss

Power outages are common during severe winter storms in Chicago. Keep flashlights and extra batteries readily available. Consider headlamps or LED camping lanterns for hands-free lighting. Prepare an emergency bag with essentials like winter clothing and medications. Familiarize yourself with manually operating your garage door and position your vehicles facing outwards for easier exit.

More Tips

Emergency Kit: Assemble an emergency kit with blankets, a first-aid kit, flashlights, batteries, and non-perishable food and water. This kit can be a lifesaver during unexpected power outages or when you can’t leave your home.

Pet Safety: Ensure your pets have a warm, sheltered place. This is crucial for their health and comfort. Make sure they have access to unfrozen water at all times.

Communication Plans: Establish a reliable communication plan with family members. This is especially important if you’re not together when the vortex hits. Keep up with the latest weather reports and advisories. Knowing what to expect allows you to prepare accordingly and take timely action.

Vehicle Preparedness: If travel is required, ensure your vehicle is equipped with an emergency kit. This should include blankets, food, water, and a charged cell phone. We also recommend parking nose out so you can leave in Drive vs. having to try and Reverse with potentially Snowmageddon behind you. It’s easier to crawl forward than before a normal pullout.

Dealing with a polar vortex in Chicago demands proactive planning and a comprehensive approach. By following these steps, you not only increase your safety but also protect your home from the severe challenges posed by these extreme weather conditions. Remember, it’s better to be over-prepared than caught off guard when the next polar vortex hits the Windy City.

Published by: Aly Cinco

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