With minus-2 in Victoria forecast, mild panic about taps and tires


For people elsewhere in this nation of ice and snow (minus-20 in Calgary this week), a few degrees below zero is still shirtsleeves weather. They will chortle at our alarm over something as toasty as minus-2, which is the Victoria low forecast for Thursday. It’s not just me: over the weekend, Environment Canada issued a “weather statement” about the approaching cold.

Here in temperate Victoria, we seem to even take pride in our West Coast Wimp inability to cope with cold, and our donning of parkas and tuques with minimal provocation.

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There is a long list of things to do to properly prepare for winter, if you are the sort who prepares. Caulking, storm window installing, gutter cleaning, emergency kit updating, firewood replenishing, fireplace inspecting, flashlight buying.

In recent years, I’ve focused my winter preparation panicking on two things: the outdoor water taps and our car’s tires.

A few years ago, a plumber came by in early winter to replace our leaking water heater and our conversation wandered into the status of our outdoor water taps. He sort of called me an idiot when I revealed that I had not detached our hoses from the outdoor taps. I might not have even turned off the water. Every winter since, I’ve scampered to protect the taps from catastrophic freezing, and even more catastrophic bursting, at the first forecast of subzero temperatures. I turn off the valves that supply the outdoor taps, drain them, disconnect the hoses, take the hose spray guns and sprinklers inside, and cover the taps with an insulating foam dome.

The experts say it’s top priority to disconnect hoses and splitters and whatever else you might have hooked up to your outdoor tap. Leaving them in place will trap water, which will freeze, and maybe burst your pipes.

Over the years, I’ve lost two hose spray guns because I left them outside in freezing weather. The water inside them froze and they cracked. With my new vigilance, that will never happen again.

The insulating foam dome is controversial. There’s a constituency that regards them to be a useless piece of junk. I still install because it’s a part of my ritual. And, how could it hurt?

On to the tires. A lot of folks think we’re loons for putting winter tires on our car, here in never-snows-except-when-it-does Victoria.

The maker of our car recommends a switch to winter tires when the temperature dips to 7 C or lower. Some people see this advice as a way to sell more tires, and to get more tire-switching fees. There’s a lively, often caustic, discussion about this on a Facebook thread.

Here’s the thinking on that 7 degrees thing: At around 7 C, the rubber on all-season tires becomes hard, causing a major loss in traction. It’s not about whether there’s snow, it’s about the temperature.

In our first decade or so living in Greater Victoria, we kept our all-season tires on year-round. Even though we always had a set of all-seasons that had decent tread, when it snowed or iced over, we had trouble getting home because our house is on a hill. We’d slip awkwardly up the hill, coming uncomfortably close to the ditch. On a few occasions, we left our car at the bottom of the hill, parked semi-legally, because the hill was just too much of a challenge. We eventually decided we’d had enough of this, and bought winter tires. The slip-sliding trouble went away. Plus, we have the added benefit of better traction while driving around town on cold days, and we're ready for trips on highways where winter tires are mandated. A waste of money perhaps, considering how few days we really, really need those tires. But I’ve decided it was worth the cost to get rid of the hassle.

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Winter tires are required on many B.C. highways, including some on Vancouver Island, from Oct. 1 to March 31 (PDF)

More about B.C. winter tire requirements.

Fourteen reasons to ditch your all season tires for the winter, at globeandmail.com

A letter to winter tire liars. (It’s satire.)

Winterize outside faucets, advice at plumbing.about.com

Reuben Saltzman says those foam dome insulators are worthless.

Bob Vila’s getting ready for winter checklist.

B.C. Hydro encourages us to be prepared for winter power outages. This article is anti-candles; they’re a fire hazard, it says.

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My previous posts are here.


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