What to Do to Prevent Frozen Pipes
Frozen pipes are a common problem that can cause serious damage to your home and plumbing system.
When the temperature drops below freezing, the water inside the pipes can freeze and expand, putting pressure on the pipes and causing them to crack or burst. This can result in leaks, floods, and costly repairs. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to prevent frozen pipes and protect your home from winter woes.
Why Pipes Freeze
Pipes freeze when the water inside them reaches the freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). This can happen when the air temperature outside is very cold, or when the pipes are exposed to cold drafts, such as in unheated areas of the house, or near windows, doors, or vents.
Pipes that are made of metal or plastic are both susceptible to freezing, as water expands regardless of the material it is contained in.
The most vulnerable pipes are those that are located in areas where the temperature is not regulated, such as:
- Outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, and water sprinkler lines
- Water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets
- Pipes that run along exterior walls that have little or no insulation
When pipes freeze, they can create a blockage that prevents water from flowing through them. This can affect your water supply and pressure, and also create a potential hazard if the pipes thaw and leak. Frozen pipes can also cause the pipes to burst, which can result in major water damage and expensive repairs.
How to Prevent Frozen Pipes
The best way to prevent frozen pipes is to keep them from getting too cold in the first place. This means maintaining a warm temperature in your home, insulating your pipes, and draining any outdoor water lines before the winter season. Here are some tips on how to prevent frozen pipes:
- Drain water from the swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following the manufacturer’s or installer’s directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is harmful to the environment and can be dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and plants.
- Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close the valves that supply water to the outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
- Add insulation to attics, basements, and crawl spaces. Insulation will help maintain higher temperatures in these areas and prevent heat loss.
- Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated.
- Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes, such as a pipe sleeve, heat tape, heat cable, or similar materials. These products can provide extra protection for exposed pipes and prevent them from freezing. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety precautions when installing these products.
- Consider relocating exposed pipes to provide increased protection from freezing. This may involve rerouting the pipes or moving them to a warmer area of the house. This can be a complex and costly project, so you may want to consult a professional plumber before attempting this.
How to Keep Pipes from Freezing
In addition to the preventive measures mentioned above, there are some things you can do to keep your pipes from freezing when the weather is very cold outside. These include:
- Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage. This will help keep the cold air out and the warm air in.
- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. This will help prevent the pipes from freezing in these areas. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
- Let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe, even at a trickle, will help prevent the pipes from freezing. The water movement will reduce the pressure in the pipes and make it less likely for them to burst if they do freeze.
- Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
- If you are going away for an extended period of time, do not lower the thermostat below 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). You may also want to shut off the main water valve and drain the system by opening all the faucets and flushing the toilets. This will prevent any water from freezing in the pipes while you are away.
How to Thaw Frozen Pipes
If you suspect that you have a frozen pipe, you should act quickly to thaw it before it bursts. Here are some steps you can take to thaw a frozen pipe:
- Identify the location of the frozen pipe. You can do this by checking for faucets that have little or no water flow, or by feeling the pipes for cold spots. The frozen pipe is likely to be in an unheated or exposed area, such as a basement, crawl space, attic, garage, or exterior wall.
- Turn on the faucet that is connected to the frozen pipe. This will help relieve the pressure in the pipe and allow the water to flow once the pipe is thawed.
- Apply heat to the frozen section of the pipe. You can use an electric heating pad, a hair dryer, a space heater, or a hot water bottle. Do not use any open flame devices, such as a blowtorch, a kerosene heater, or a propane heater, as these can be dangerous and damage the pipe. Also, do not use any electrical devices near standing water, as this can cause electrocution.
- Apply heat until the full water pressure is restored. Check the faucet periodically to see if the water is flowing. If the pipe is thawed, you should see a steady stream of water.
- If you cannot locate the frozen pipe, or if you cannot access it, you may need to call a licensed plumber to help you. Do not try to thaw a pipe that has already burst, as this can cause more damage and flooding.
Frozen pipes are a serious problem that can cause a lot of trouble and expense for homeowners. By following the tips in this article, you can prevent frozen pipes and protect your home from winter damage. Remember to keep your pipes warm, insulated, and flowing, and to act quickly if you notice any signs of freezing. If you need any professional help with your plumbing system, contact a licensed plumber near you. Stay safe and warm this winter!