By Emma Kandrac
With January now in full swing, certain parts of the country are starting to look like a giant winter wonderland. Looking out your window, you can either think: “Oh, look how beautiful it is outside!” or “I’m never leaving the house again.” Whichever side you take on this weather-matter, everyone can agree that winter can cause serious damage to your wallet in order to properly weatherize your life.
“As the cold weather begins to sweep across the country, BBB offers tips for people to safely prepare for another winter,” says Paula Fleming, spokesperson for BBB Serving Eastern MA, ME, RI & VT. “People can save a few dollars by winterizing their home and vehicle before the harshest weather takes hold.”
With frigid temperatures upon us, the last thing you need is a faulty heating system, frozen pipes, a broken-down car, or a damaged home with scammers trying to cheat you out of money. Better Business Bureau has the checklist you need to prepare for these situations if any should come about.
Hire a reliable heating and plumbing company
•Do your research. Research several businesses to learn about their background and qualifications. Some may be better qualified than others depending on their work history and your heating or plumbing system. BBB Business Profiles will give you a background on the business, including any complaints and customer reviews. Be sure the business is properly licensed to perform the work. Compare bids for pricing and job scope.
•Get everything in writing. When contracting a job, even an emergency service, make sure everything the business agrees to is put in writing. Make sure the cost is within your budget and that any verbal promises are also documented in writing. Read the contract thoroughly and get any questions answered before signing.
•Understand the warranty. If the business offers a warranty on the work, make sure you understand what is covered and how long it will be covered.
•If a pipe bursts, immediate attention by a plumber is crucial. A plumber can help you locate the problem, thaw out your pipes, and insulate against future freezing. Repairing a pipe can be tricky and may end up causing more problems, so hiring a plumber is a safe and smart option.
Get your vehicle ready for the conditions
•Replace or refill all fluids. The number one way to ensure your car is ready for winter is to check your fluid levels. This includes the coolant, oil and washer fluid. Your coolant must have the correct antifreeze/water levels to prevent any fluid from freezing in your radiator.
•Inspect or switch your tires. Make sure to check that your tires have good tire pressure and they are not worn down.
•Check your battery. Your battery can lose power in the winter due to the cold temperatures and oil can thicken making it difficult for your vehicle to turn over. Have your battery checked.
•Protect your car inside and out from ice and salt. Dirt and salt can have huge impacts on your car’s paint job and floors. To protect your car’s paint, apply a fresh coat of wax before winter comes. Washing your car regularly can undermine the effects of dirt and salt and deter rust from forming on your car. Pick up floor mats if you don’t already own some to protect your car’s carpet and floorboards. Freezing temperatures can also cause water that has gotten into door and trunk locks to freeze and lock you out of your vehicle. Lubricate the locks before they freeze or use an antifreeze product to unlock them.
Avoid “Storm Chasers”
•Resist high-pressure sales. Some storm chasers use tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot. Be proactive in selecting a contractor and not reactive to sales calls on the phone or door-to-door pitches. Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor.
•Be especially careful of door-to-door contractors. Many municipalities require a solicitation permit if sales people go door-to-door. Ask for identification. Check their vehicle for a business name, phone number, and license plates for your state or province.
•Get at least three estimates. Get quotes in writing, don’t accept estimates over the phone, and be wary of very low estimates, which could set up a “bait and switch” tactic.
(Emma joined Better Business Bureau of Eastern MA, ME, RI & VT in 2016, serving as a Copywriter for the Communications & Marketing team in Marlborough, MA. Prior to coming on board at BBB, Emma earned her Bachelor’s in Communications with a concentration in Journalism and a minor in Biology from Westfield State University in 2016. She is passionate about the environment, human rights and social action, and education. And her two dogs.)