By Darryl Hamer

November 2023

More than 50% of the property owners on Lake Mohawksin are part-time residents. For many, that means leaving their homes vacant to the elements during the harshest part of the year – Winter. With temps reaching 30 below and power outages more frequent than anyone would like, this means you have to protect your property from the damage that can result from Winter in the North.

One of the reasons I have so much interest in preventing cold-weather catastrophe is I have experienced walking into my home in late January to the sound of “rain” falling in my basement and the resulting 18” of water accumulating down there. This happened to me because I assumed the heat would always work, the power would never go out and my pipes would never freeze.

In this month’s article, I’ll detail a few of the technology-enabled ideas I’ve employed which may help you avoid extensive repairs. At the end, I’ll cover some non-tech solutions to keep your home as safe as possible when you’re not there.

The Internet

While connectivity to the Internet isn’t going to keep your place warm, it is going to allow you to learn when things are not good. But, most home internet setups require a DSL or cable modem, a wireless modem and/or a Starlink device to be powered on and if the power goes out, so will your Internet. We’ll get to more on power later, but you can keep your Internet running for several hours, and certainly long enough to notify you of a problem, by employing an Uninterruptible Power Supply or UPS. This device is around $50 on Amazon and if you plug your Internet device and wireless router into it, and then plug it into a standard wall outlet, you should receive several hours of functioning Internet services during a power outage. Remember, you just need a signal to alert you that something has gone wrong. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B073Q48Z95/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_image?ie=UTF8&th=1

Temperature and Humidity Monitoring

Now that you can use the Internet if the power goes out it’s time to deploy some smart devices. Now we must assume that we won’t have power during any event that might cause damage from extended cold exposure. Therefore, we need something that operates on battery power. I chose the “Temp Stick”. This little device can be placed anywhere in the house that can reach your Internet router and/or Internet wifi device. The importance of any monitor is to tell you when something is not right. That means, it needs to “listen” at regular intervals and be able to alert you if one of those expected readings was below normal but really importantly if the measurement DIDN’T occur. It’s kind of like that tree falling in the woods. If it didn’t make a sound, you still want to know. The Temp Stick is easy to set up, connects to your home wifi and takes a measurement every 10 minutes of the current temperature and humidity and reports it to an app on your smartphone. If the temperature or humidity ever falls into a danger zone, the app will alert your phone and let you know. But it will also send an alert if one of those measurements did NOT take place which could be an indication that power or Internet connectivity has been lost. Temp Stick goes for $150 on Amazon which is a little pricey but one alert could save you thousands. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M1OPOZB/ref=dp_iou_view_item?ie=UTF8&th=1

“Wet” monitors.

I also deploy a wet monitor as a backup device. This is a simple device you can connect to your home wifi Internet and it will let you know if it detects water. Water on the floor for any reason is not good.  This one also tells you if the temperature is below freezing. It’s a bit cheaper but it does not alert of you missed measurements or tell you the current status via an app.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B2KPL9CC?ref=emc_p_m_5_i_atc

Internet Doorbells

An Internet doorbell isn’t going to keep your house warm in the Winter. But it is such a universal safety device for people who have to leave their homes for any period that I am including it here. I’ve chosen this particular model because it a) does not require a subscription to any service b) has both a battery powered and AC connected version c) has good quality real-time video d) easy set up and install. When it is -25 degrees in Tomahawk and I am basking in the Costa Rican sunshine, I do want to be able to look out my door and see how many feet of snow are piled up in the driveway. I actually put a marked stake in the ground where my Internet doorbell can view it so I can know if we’ve gotten excessive snow. They’re also great for the occasional deer, bear or lynx sighting, not to mention they not only deter vandals, but take their picture for the police if they show up.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07R3WY95C/ref=emc_b_5_t

Powering your home gas furnace with a car battery

All the monitoring in the world won’t help you keep the house warm if the power goes out for an extended period of time. Frozen pipes can burst and flood your home causing thousands in damage if temps get too low indoors. The best solution for these times is a whole-house, automatically switching, natural gas or propane-powered generator. But, the time and expense to deploy such a solution to cover a rare circumstance may not be for everyone. My neighbor showed me his inverter solution to keep the house warm and I was hooked.

By using a fully-charged 12 volt car battery, you can use a DC-AC inverter and power your home gas furnace for several hours. There are several youtube videos with step-by-step instructions for how to do this safely and I have placed one link below.. Caution: If you do not feel confident working with appliances or electricity, please call your HVAC repair company or electrician to complete this solution.

For the inverter, I have chosen the Jupiter 2000W inverter. It is a sine-wave inverter that has been deployed in many homes of people I know personally so I didn’t have to rely on anonymous reviews to know it works safely.

Youtube Installation Video : https://youtu.be/kkyPBAz0mLw?si=inStHZbA0BluXxQF

Jupiter 2000W Link on Amazon:

Please do not deploy this solution WITHOUT an external generator switch! There are several reasons an external switch makes this solution much better. First, Safety. It will probably be dark and cold when this sort of solution needs to be deployed, so messing around inside a furnace in those conditions can lead to bigger problems. Second, convenience. You may not be the person turning this thing on, so it has to be as easy and safe as possible to engage and disengage. Third, a good generator switch is going to employ not just clean power, but it will prevent power from “backfeeding” and potentially damaging your furnace when the power comes back on. I use the EZGenerator Switch because it is made in the USA, has great product support and is assembled by veterans.

https://EZgeneratorswitch.com 

Youtube installation video for EZGenertator Switch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iafpLwkgITY&t=7s&ab_channel=EZGeneratorSwitch

Necessary Cold Weather prep that doesn’t require technology

Structures have been surviving the harsh Wisconsin winters long before electricity or the Internet. So, even if you’ve deployed all these fancy techno solutions, you still have to be prepared that they won’t work. Your Internet provider could suffer the same catastrophe that has impacted your home and not be able to provide service. When the power does go out, your home must be prepared to survive some cold weather.

Turn off the water. Find your main water shut-off valve and turn off the water. Then go open the valves on your kitchen sink and bathroom sinks. This will relieve the pressure in the pipes and if any water is left in the pipes, it will have room to expand if it freezes and not break pipes because it is not under pressure. I use the sinks rather than the shower because turning the water on and off can disturb sediment in the lines and push it to the screens in your fixtures. The sink faucet screens are easier to clean of any sediment than replacing shower heads.

Pour RV antifreeze in your toilet tanks and drains. I just use a quarter cup in each. It would have to get super cold for water to freeze and expand enough to harm these, but an ounce of prevention can save a lot of money. I use RV antifreeze (the pink stuff) because it is non toxic and more environmentally friendly than regular antifreeze and I usually have some left over from winterizing the boats.

Give a trusted full-season neighbor a key. The lowest tech solutions are the most fun and the easiest. Even if you have Internet-enabled door locks, these might not work when the power goes out. There’s no substitute for good neighbors and Lake Mohawksin has many. In fact, if you don’t know your neighbors or don’t know who you could call to check on your place, send us an email at folmtomahawk@gmail.com and we’ll help you out.

Have your emergency contact numbers ready:

Wisconsin Public Service: 800-450-7240

Tomahawk Fire and Police: (715) 453-8180

Plumber: ___________________

Electrician:_________________

Hopefully the solutions presented here may be helpful. Importantly, I need to disclaim that I am not a certified electrician or HVAC contractor. These are solutions I personally use and have installed but I do not advocate self-installation for anyone who does not have the education or confidence to safely do so. Only use these devices according to the instructions that come with them. If you have any questions about these solutions, I’ll answer your email to darryl.hamer@gmail.com.

I wish you all the safest and Happiest Holiday Season.