Tips to survive the bitter cold like a northerner

Matthew Antkowiak, a Capitol Hill resident, points to a pipe in the wall of the basement apartment that froze Monday morning. His tenant had turned the thermostat down before heading out of town.
The thermostat in the basement apartment of Matthew Antkowiak’s Capitol Hill home was set to 42 degrees. Antkowiak, who was raised in Buffalo, says residents shouldn’t set the heat lower than 55 degrees during the winter in order to prevent water pipes from freezing.
This pipe along an exterior wall froze and began to leak Monday. Matthew Antkowiak discovered that the out-of-town tenant in his basement apartment made a rookie mistake this week by setting the heat too low. Burst and frozen pipes have been plaguing homes and businesses across the region during this multiday stretch of cold weather.

WASHINGTON – While it may irritate Washington’s “weather wimps” to hear northern transplants tell them what real cold is like – Washingtonians were put off when a first-term President Barack Obama noted that they lack the ‘flinty toughness’ of Chicagoans – it can pay to listen to the winter-weather know-how that colder-climate veterans can pass on.

Take Matthew Antkowiak, co-owner of Altas Vet in Northeast D.C. The former Buffalo resident says the tenant in his basement Capitol Hill apartment made a rookie mistake this week. Before leaving town, the tenant turned the heat down to 42 degrees, and the inevitable happened. Antkowiak woke up Monday morning with no water.

He knew what he had to do: Uncover the pipe and go to work with a blow-dryer. Three hours later, “there was water coming through the window, under the baseboards.”

Pointing to the exposed pipes he says, “Thank God I could turn it off!”

He narrowly avoided a massive rupture. But he was left with an inch of water in the basement apartment. He meets with insurance adjusters this weekend to total the damage.

Knowing his neighbors might not know the cold-weather lore passed down to Buffalo expats and other northern transplants, Antkowiak tweeted some advice to his neighbors.

“Being raised in Buffalo, you are taught early, never turn the heat down below 55 because the pipes can freeze.”

If residents are worried about pipes in colder areas of their home, especially if it’s an older structure, try leaving a tap going with just a little drip. “It’s science: Running water doesn’t freeze,” he says.

As a veterinarian, Antkowiak tells clients to keep the dog walks short, and clean the toes of those pups when they come in. It’s not the snow, he says, but the salt that can burn those feet, making dogs pull up short and start limping. They haven’t pulled a muscle, Antkowiak says, they’ve likely got salt jammed between their toes where skin is tender.

Personally, Antkowiak doesn’t mind the cold. Immediately after talking to WTOP, he headed out for a run. “The Western New Yorker in me says if it’s not zero, it’s still OK to exercise outside.”

One more tip: To keep hands really warm, double glove. For best results, try a mitten over a glove to give those fingers room to wiggle and keep the frost from getting in.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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