With the expected arrival of freezing temperatures, Hillsborough County reminds residents to take proper care and precautions to protect their homes, animals and plants. Here are a few tips from Fire Rescue, Animal Services, Public Utilities and Extension Service.
Home Heating Safety
Electric Space Heaters
- Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
- Check that the thermostat control mechanism will switch off automatically if the heater falls over.
- Don't dry clothes or store objects on top of any electric space heater.
- Keep combustibles at least three feet away from each heater.
- Never leave an electric space heater unattended. Always unplug them when not in use and before going to bed.
- Fireplaces regularly build up creosote in their chimneys. Have the fireplace professionally cleaned every year before using it.
- Routinely clean and inspect chimneys for obstructions and cracks to prevent chimney and roof fires.
- Check to make sure the damper is open before starting any fire.
- Never burn trash, paper or green wood in a fireplace, as these materials cause heavy creosote buildup and the materials are difficult to control.
- Use a screen heavy enough to stop rolling logs and big enough to cover the entire opening of the fireplace to catch flying sparks.
- Don't wear loose-fitting clothes near any open flame.
- Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.
- Store cooled ashes in a tightly sealed metal container outside the home.
- Develop and practice a home escape plan with the entire family.
A working smoke alarm dramatically increases the chances of surviving a fire. Be sure to test your smoke alarm every month by pushing the test button, and change the batteries once a year.
Wood stoves cause more than 4,000 residential fires every year.
- Carefully follow the manufacturer's installation and maintenance instructions.
- Look for solid construction, such as plate steel or cast iron metal.
- Check for cracks and inspect legs, hinges and door seals for smooth joints and seams.
- Use only seasoned wood for fuel, not green wood, artificial logs or trash.
- Inspect and clean pipes and chimneys annually, and check them monthly for damage or obstructions.
- Keep combustible objects at least three feet away from a wood stove.
- Take pets indoors whenever possible to best shelter them from the elements, including wind. By ordinance, outdoor dog houses must have three enclosed sides and a solid floor. Insulate outdoor dog houses with clean and dry materials to seal out moisture.
- Provide clean drinking water and extra food (especially for pets outdoors).
- Consider dog sweaters, particularly for breeds with short coats.
- Like people, give extra care and protection for very young and very old pets.
- Use extreme caution when sheltering or walking pets near areas where anti-freeze may have been used in vehicles.
- Be aware that cats will seek shelter inside wheel wells and engines. Use caution when starting vehicles that are not garaged or are kept outside.
- Be sure pets are wearing secure identification (county tags, micro-chips) in case they go missing, and search the shelter immediately.
For more information on humane animal welfare, or to report neglect and cruelty, contact Hillsborough County Animal Services at 813-744-5660 or www.hillsboroughcounty.org/animalservices.
Frozen water pipes can burst, causing tremendous damage and leaving property owners with costly repair bills. Here are some tips to protect your pipes:
- Protect pipes that are exposed or the house or building insulation is insufficient. Look for where the water service enters the structure, and use an old blanket or material available from a home improvement store to insulate exposed piping.
- Homes and buildings with crawl spaces are particularly susceptible to wind and freezing temperatures, so outdoor pipes should be protected from the elements.
- Secure water meter covers so the meter and surrounding pipes are not exposed.
- Insulate or cover exposed backflow prevention devices on fire lines and irrigation systems.
- Disconnect any outside water hoses from spigots, as water trapped inside can freeze and crack the hose.
If piping does freeze, be patient. It doesn’t mean your water service has been turned off. Wait a few hours for temperatures to warm and the pipes to thaw. Never use an open flame to thaw out a pipe.
If a pipe does burst, turn off the water supply by using the home’s shut-off valve, typically located under a sink or just outside the structure. If you are unable to shut off the water and are a county water customer, immediately call Public Utilities Customer Service, 813-272-6680, or after regular business hours, 813-744-5600.
Covering tropical plants in your landscape and those not hardy in your zone may help those plants survive cold weather.
- Cover plants for frost and cold protection. Covers can be sheets, quilts, or frost/freeze cloth, but not plastic as it transfers the cold onto the plant.
- Covers should be in place before the sun goes down, and can be removed during the day. For more details, call the Extension Service.
- Frost/freeze cloth may remain in place for several days as air and light flow through the cloth.
- To provide an additional source of heat, use Christmas tree lights—not LED as they do not provide heat—or a light bulb may provide enough heat to protect your plant from freezing.
- If plants are in containers, move them to your porch, lanai or garage, as your garage may well be 10-plus degrees warmer than the outside temperature,
- Container plants can be covered to the ground or grouped together and covered.
- Don’t prune or fertilize plants, as this encourages growth and the plant will be more prone to cold damage. For more details, call the Extension Service.
- Slightly moisten the soil before a freeze or near-freeze because moist soil releases more heat than dry soil. Hand watering the ground beneath the plant helps.
- After a freeze, check plants leaves to see if they lost water while frozen. Applying water to the soil will provide both a thaw and water your plant at the same time.
- Mulch now that it has cooled off. Mulch helps regulate the soil temperature and protects the plant roots. Maintain a 3-inch layer of mulch after it settles.