Before temperatures plummet, you need to make sure your home is prepared for winter’s icy impact.
Your home is your refuge from outside elements. You do everything you can to keep your home safe and secure, no matter the weather. Frozen pipes are an unexpected winter catastrophe. They’re extremely damaging and expensive for any homeowner — being educated and prepared is the best way to prevent those pipes from freezing.
Whether you’re a new homeowner unsure of how to prepare for winter or a seasoned veteran of winter home maintenance looking for tips, we have your back. Here’s everything you need to know about how to prepare, prevent and thaw frozen plumbing.
Why Do Pipes Freeze?
While most substances contract when frozen (think – the air in your tires), when water freezes, the molecules expand and the density decreases. Hint: this is why ice floats. Water freezes at 32° F and below, which means the expansion puts stress upon whatever is holding the water — such as your home’s pipes — and can cause the container to break.
Normally, exposed plumbing is more prone to freezing and bursting. Water sprinkler lines, outdoor faucets and bibs, swimming pool supply lines and water supply lines in unheated/uninsulated interior areas of the home are most vulnerable. Check your basement/attic/crawl space, as these are the areas you’ll most likely find these pipes.
You should also be aware of wind chill. If freezing weather is in the teens, you can expect a one-degree drop in temperature for every two mph of wind.
How to Prevent Pipes From Freezing
Review these simple ways to protect your home’s plumbing from freezing temperatures.
1. Proper Preparation:
Don’t wait for the cold weather to arrive. You can actually begin to implement your preventive measures before the temperature starts to nosedive. Some steps to take include draining your swimming pool and sprinkler system’s water supply lines, removing hoses and closing the inside valves that supply water to the exterior hose bibs.
Whether pipes are outside or inside, they’re still subject to the damage of freezing temperatures. Insulating exposed pipes is a quick way to prevent damage. Shield exposed plumbing with:
Use foam to insulate exposed pipes to add an extra level of protection. Foam board helps shield large areas of plumbing and is easy to cut and secure. Foam also helps lower energy bills by reducing the amount of energy needed to heat your water supply in the winter. Check out your local hardware store for various types of foam insulation.
Insulation domes are useful for winterizing outdoor faucets, bibs and spigots. Normally made out of plastic or foam, these protective covers help shield outdoor plumbing from lower temperatures and wind chill.
Pipe Sleeves or Heating Cables
Placing pipe sleeves, domes or other insulating materials on exposed interior pipes can reduce their vulnerability to the cold weather. However, if your home has exterior water lines that run through a crawl space, insulation may not provide enough protection, especially in colder climates. Installing a heating cable that is designed to wrap around piping can keep the pipes sufficiently warm.
2. Let Faucets Drip
Let your faucet drip cold water slowly to prevent pressure buildup in pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, the reduction in pressure will reduce the likelihood of a burst pipe. One faucet is okay, but make sure it’s the last sink from where the water line enters the house. For example, if water enters from the back of the house, let a sink drip in the front bathroom.
Doing this allows water to flow through all of the pipes without having every sink in the house turned on. Now you may be wondering if this will tack on an added surprise to your water bill at the end of the month. The dripping faucet won’t be enough to drive your water bill sky high, and the small added cost is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of recovering from burst pipes.
3. Keep the Thermostat at a Steady Temperature
Many homeowners prefer to lower the thermostat prior to going to bed as a way to reduce energy consumption. Keeping the thermostat set at a “normal” temperature while sleeping may result in higher heating bills, but it can help keep pipes from freezing during the night – and help you avoid a costly repair bill. You should also set the thermostat no lower than 55° F.
It is tempting to drop the thermostat, especially if you’re going away for a week or so over the holidays. Just keep in mind, while your pipes might not freeze if you set the thermostat to 40° F, you are much closer to freezing point if the power goes out. Winter storms can quickly cause lengthy power outages. Your pipes can survive much longer if you leave the house at 55° F or even higher.
4. Turn Off the Water
Are you leaving on vacation or is the temperature expected to drop significantly in the evening? Turning off your main water valve or pump, if you have a well, is a smart precaution. By doing this, you can reduce the amount of damage incurred if a pipe happens to freeze and burst.
Shut off the water, and a leak is limited to the amount of water currently in the pipe. Even better, you can drain that extra water by leaving the faucets open after you turn off the water.
5. Keep Cabinet Doors Open
Kitchen and bathroom cabinets often contain piping that supplies water to the sink. Keeping the cabinet doors open during cold weather allows heated air to reach these vulnerable areas. Placing space heaters near the open doors can provide additional protection against freezing during colder winter weather.
Be careful when using space heaters, though. If you plan to leave them on in the kitchen and bathroom overnight, leave them on low. While you’re at it, remove any flammable materials from the surrounding area. Unattended space heaters can quickly become a fire hazard if they’re on too high or placed near flammable materials (the chemicals under your sink or towels).
How to Thaw Frozen Pipes
A sure sign that your pipes are frozen — other than a burst pipe — is when you turn on a faucet and only get a trickle of water. There are a number of steps you can take to thaw frozen pipes:
Keep the Faucet Running
Allowing water to run through the piping system can cause any accumulated ice to melt. You should notice an increase in the water flow as the melting progresses.
Apply Heat to the Pipe
If you are able to locate and access the pipe, wrapping it with an electric heating pad or running a space heater near it can help the frozen water to thaw more quickly. Be sure to apply the heat until full water pressure is restored. Even a hair dryer can serve as an adequate heat source in some cases. You can also use a space heater, but remember, do not leave a heater running unattended, and keep it away from flammable materials.
Call a Licensed Plumber
If you’re unable to locate or reach the frozen pipe and running the faucet doesn’t remedy the issue, consider calling an experienced plumber. Haller Enterprises offers a full range of local plumbing services to homeowners in Central and Eastern PA. We can handle any type of plumbing issue – including burst pipes in the middle of the night!