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People in South Carolina are accustomed to being advised of risks from hurricanes. We regularly deal with thunderstorms and the threat from lightning and high winds.

South Carolinians know flooding and drought. We survive and prosper in sweltering heat.

What we don't experience very often is cold, cold weather -- and the problems associated with it.

This week's lows in the 20s aren't classified as cold in many places, but in the subtropics, the 20s are quite chilly.

The mercury is expected to drop well below freezing in the overnight hours.

And that can mean problems -- expensive problems. Homeowners and renters need to prevent their homes from being ruined by frozen pipes.

Estimates are that 250,000 American families' homes are ruined and lives disrupted each winter when water pipes freeze and burst.

South Carolinians might see a bigger problem than those in the North because of houses with slab foundations and water pipes running through the attic. Also, Southern homeowners don't think freezing is a problem and don't bother checking the condition or location of pipes in their homes.

If the temperature drops to 20 degrees, you could have a problem with frozen pipes.

The South Carolina Insurance News Service and the Institute for Business and Home Safety recommend the following winter weather tips:

• Insulate exposed pipes.

• Make sure gutters and drains in basement stairwells are clear of leaves and window wells are working properly.

• Check the weather stripping around skylights and other roof openings.

• Seal cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations near water pipes with caulking.

• Remove garden hoses from outside spigots. Drain outdoor faucets when freezing temperatures are forecast.

• Adequately insulate attics, basements and crawl spaces.

• Maintain heat levels, keeping the attic no more than 10 degrees warmer than the outside air and inside the home no lower than 65 degrees.

• If temperatures are below freezing and water pressure is low, let water drip through faucets to reduce pressure in pipes, and open cabinets to let heated air flow beneath sinks.

It is critical that everyone in the home learn how to shut off the main water supply because if a pipe bursts, shutting off the water quickly will help minimize the damage.

Standard homeowners' insurance policies cover winter-related disasters such as burst pipes, ice dams and wind damage caused by weight of ice or snow, but having to go through the hassle of dealing with what can in some instances be nothing short of disaster is not the way you want to spend these first days of a new year.

Be advised.

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