With below-freezing temperatures beginning to show up throughout the Big Country, and most of Texas as well, now is a good time to check vehicles and homes to make sure we are prepared. In addition, it's time to make sure our pets are well cared for during the cold snaps as well.

For the record, I do not like cold weather, not even in the middle of a scorching hot summer. I am that guy who is running around the outside of my house, checking on everything before the cold snap arrives. The first thing I do is fuel up all the vehicles and check batteries, windshield wipers, tire pressure, tire treads, and fill all fluid levels.

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A friend recently shared with me a "Winter Weather Checklist" he got from the
North Texas American Red Cross. Additionally, the Texas Department Of Safety has its own "Cold Weather Driving Safety Tips". Plus, I too have a few tips of my own.

As always, be safe, stay warm, and remember your pets; bring them inside if at all possible, keeping them fed, watered, and warm.

1) Lower the Risk of House Fires — Never Leave Space Heaters Unattended

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More house fires occur during cold weather when everyone is using heaters. Remember all heaters need space all the way around; keep them far away from anything flammable. Portable space heaters must be placed on solid ceramic tiles.  Keep children and pets away as well. Turn it off and unplug it when you leave the room or go to sleep. Never run a space heater with an extension cord.

2) Protect Your Pipes from Freezing

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The objective is to keep warm air in and cold air out by keeping garage doors closed — especially if there's a water line or water heater in the garage. Make sure you open your kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to let the warm air circulate under the sink's plumbing. Then keep a dribble of water going. And yes, it really does work, especially on external pipes. Clear chemicals out, so kids don't get into them.

3) How to Thaw Frozen Water Pipes

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If you have a frozen pipe, turn on a faucet. If only a trickle or nothing comes out, it's likely frozen along an exterior wall or where water enters the home through the foundation. Keep the faucet open as it begins to thaw; water will begin to flow again. A tip to help thaw exposed pipes is to use a heating pad wrapped around the frozen pipe,  or use a blow dryer. Don't use anything with a flame. If you can, call a plumber.

4) Don't Play the Thermostat Tug-of-War Game — Set It & Forget It

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Allow your central heat thermostat to remain at the same temperature both during the day and at night. It will keep a better temperature balance throughout the cold snap. By doing so, you'll help prevent a more costly repair job as pipes freeze and burst. HVAC experts say to leave the central heater on and set it to a temperature that is NO lower than 55° F.

5) How to Prepare Your Car for Bad Weather

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To avoid being stuck outside any longer than necessary, squirt some hand sanitizer or Pam cooking spray into the keyholes to keep them from freezing up. Then use a rag to wipe Pam on the rubber seals around the car doors to keep them from freezing shut. You can also take the floormats, put the rubber side on the windshield, and hold them there with the wiper blades. In the morning remove them, shake them off, and now the windshield is cleared.

Helpful Tips to Get Us Through Rain/Ice/Sleet/Snow

Start by being informed and monitoring local weather forecasts before you ever hit the road. Avoid going out unless absolutely necessary. Know road conditions. For more tips visit the North Texas American Red CrossReady.gov, and check out the winter driving safety tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

KEEP READING: Get answers to 51 of the most frequently asked weather questions...