KUSA - The cooler fall weather should clue in homeowners and renters that it is time to prepare their homes for winter.

Here's a how-to guide for Coloradans who need either a friendly reminder of what to do before snow starts consistently falling or a refresher course on winterizing their residences:

WINTERIZING SPRINKLERS

The backflow prevention device is the most expensive irrigation system component – and it's the most vulnerable to freeze damage. It's above ground, full of water and can freeze when temps hit 32 degrees. This device keeps outdoor water from backing into the water used indoors. That's why it's important to keep it in good working order.

It is most often located outdoors and somewhere close to the foundation. It is a set of connecting pipes that form a rectangle shape above ground and it has a valve/handle on it. Once the sprinkler system is properly winterized by blowing it out with compressed air, this device is out of danger for the winter. But until it's been winterized, it can still suffer damage and needs to be protected from freezing temps.

If you don't know how to drain the backflow and how to turn the valve to 45 degrees, get help from a pro. From then on, you can protect the device with household items yourself.

Wrap a large towel around the backflow device and then cover the towel with a large plastic trash bag. The towel provides insulation against the cold – and the trash bag keeps everything dry. Secure these items at the base securely with duct tape. Once the sprinkler system has been winterized, the device no longer will need this protection.

This precaution is an intermediate step until the system is properly winterized. Systems that are not winterized by blowing out the lines with compressed air will be very vulnerable to additional freeze damage. Pipes can break and valves can also be damaged. In the long run, proper winterization is good insurance that your sprinkler system will be just as good next spring as when it was put to bed for the winter.

PREPARING PIPES FOR COLD TEMPERATURES

North Metro Fire Rescue District says maintenance is needed to make sure sprinkler systems perform properly when a fire occurs.

They recommend implementing the following elements:

  1. Regular surveys of buildings and equipment to find potential freeze-up hazards, such as insulation and heating deficiencies, and to check for unwanted outside air. Look for vents and openings in windows, walls, roofs and floors, evidence of displaced insulation, or cold air infiltrating unheated spaces.
  2. Annual inspection of the fire sprinkler system by a qualified service technician, which should include checking for unheated areas in the building that contain sprinkler system pipes. It is important to provide adequate heating to building areas that are most susceptible to freezing, such as stairwells, areas above dropped ceilings, entry lobbies and vestibules, and attic spaces.
  3. Proper maintenance of the system by a qualified service technician to ensure it's in working condition. The type of system installed will determine the maintenance needed.• If the system is of the "wet-pipe" variety (most common type), adequate heat (i.e., 40-degrees F) must be provided for fire sprinkler valve and pump rooms and any space that contains fire sprinkler pipes in order to prevent components from freezing. Boilers and other facility heat supply sources should be personally monitored and/or with electronic supervisory devices.• If the system is of the "dry-pipe" variety, low point drains (e.g., drum drips) should be emptied to remove water that may be present from condensation or accidental trips.• If the system contains antifreeze, such as propylene glycol or glycerine, it is essential that the concentration of the antifreeze solution be measured by a qualified service technician. Solutions that are too diluted or weak may not prevent a system from freezing.
  4. Appoint individuals to monitor weather forecasts. Establish guidelines to alert management and maintenance personnel of any incoming cold snaps, and always maintain indoor temperatures at a minimum of 40-degrees F.

PROTECTING GARDENS

From now on, there will be danger of frost in the garden. And because there is still plenty of ripening time left in the growing season, it's worth taking the time to protect veggies whenever there is the threat of frost damage.

If a light frost catches you unprepared, you can do basic damage control afterward. Look for wilted leaves as wilting is a sign plants been nipped by frost. Prune off wilted leaves to redirect the plant's energy into ripening the harvest.

Then be prepared to protect plants from the next frost by covering them up before the temperature dips toward freezing. Plastic will not work for frost protection because it will get as cold as the air temperature and any parts of the plant it touches will be damaged.

Instead, use frost/shade protection fabric (from a garden center) or fabric household items. Sheets, blankets and towels are all useful. They will be effective unless there is moisture. If rain or snow is in the forecast, you can cover the fabric with plastic tarps or trash bags. With this protection, most plants will be good to about 28 degrees.

Some plants will be hardier than others. Perennial herbs such as oregano and chives will survive frost and overwinter. But tender annual herbs such as basil and cilantro do not like the cold and need protection when there's the slightest threat of frost. The same is true for tender annual flowers such as petunias and annual shade plants such as impatiens and shade-loving foliage plants.

For added frost and freeze protection, place holiday lights underneath the fabric. Be sure to use traditional lights as LEDs are cool and provide no heat. String lights on tomato cages, garden stakes or place them on top of dry ground. The fabric will hold heat from the lights around the plants to protect against frost and also help the soil stay warm to promote ripening.

When is it time to give in to Mother Nature and harvest it all?

All veggies with the exception of root crops such as carrots and beets will be lost to a hard freeze. When there is a freeze warning, it's time to finish the harvest. Green tomatoes can be brought indoors to ripen. They will not get sweeter once off the vine, but the color will turn to red. Use a knife to cut pumpkin and squash stems from the vines, but carry them by the fruit to keep stems from breaking. Without their stems the veggies will deteriorate sooner.

WINTERIZING YOUR CAR BEFORE A COLD-WEATHER DRIVE

Here are nine tips for how to prepare your car before you drive to the mountains or just around town during the winter: http://on9news.tv/1GfTg9J.

(© 2015 KUSA)