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Dripping Springs homebuilder revising future plans in wake of winter storms

Kyle Fernandez asked his community what they would like to change about their homes to be better prepared for extreme winter weather.

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas — As the winter storms this month bore down on Texas, Kyle Fernandez looked to his community for suggestions on how to make homes better during extreme weather.

"Hi neighbors! Stir crazy homebuilder here thinking about ideas on how to build homes better prepared for something like this," Fernandez posted in a Dripping Springs Facebook group.

Fernandez, who owns his own homebuilding company, came up with six suggestions himself. The community wrote more than 400 comments and Fernandez summarized it into 31 possible changes.

"I read through all 400-plus comments, consolidated it into a spreadsheet, started to analyze what the cost of each item that the neighbors in Dripping Springs had mentioned and then sorted the spreadsheet a few different ways to try to figure out what can I do for free, what can I do for very little money and then what can I recommend to my future homeowners that would cost a considerable amount of money but would improve their house overall," Fernandez said.

Fernandez came up with his original six ideas, listed below, based on his own experience during the winter storms:

  • Built-in home generators.
  • Isolation shutoff valves on every water source like hose bibs. Perhaps a manifold of valves to be able to shut off isolated zones.
  • Most main shutoff valves are typically outside – thinking about adding an extra layer of a main shutoff valve inside the home. It's hard to find a main shutoff valve when it's buried in snow!
  • Spray foam insulation has been amazing for my clients during this, however, it's not standard to insulate garage walls. It's a minor expense during construction and should be added.
  • At least one dedicated circuit in all non-HVAC zones to handle load of a space heater to keep critical pipes warm.
  • Drip pans under all ridge vents on composite shingle roofs. Many neighbors have thought they had a pipe burst but when I looked, it was just melting snow that had entered through vents.

"I live in a house that I didn't build and I had a busted water pipe on the second night of the freeze," Fernandez said.

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On one of his projects, Fernandez is working with a homeowner installing a rainwater collection system. The owner of Harvest Rain Solutions said the same, that he is having to rethink how his systems operate under extreme winter weather.

"It's retrofitting where we're remodeling a rainwater system onto an existing house that we had some struggles and it primarily came down to a loss of electricity," Ron Van Sickle said. "We've always assumed that the power is going to be there to keep our equipment warm, to allow the pumps to continue to run so you can trickle water anywhere that we have exposed pipes due to a retrofit situation. Those areas were very likely to ice up and that meant somebody going out and thawing out the pipe."

Now, Van Sickle is giving a heads up to new customers that they will heavily recommend, if not require, well houses to be better insulated. 

"Everybody's saying, 'Well, that well hasn't frozen in 40 years. We're not worried about it now.' We have examples everywhere of wells freezing and breaking," Van Sickle said.

Fernandez told KVUE the winter storms that hit Texas shut down his worksites temporarily, but have also fundamentally changed his conversations with new clients.

"As we're designing their house, we're really taking into account that list of 31 to see what we can go about doing to make their house better because of the lessons we just learned," Fernandez said.

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