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How to Keep Pipes From Freezing

Bitter cold temperatures increase the risk that a home’s pipes will freeze and potentially burst. Taking care of winter home maintenance tasks in advance can alleviate issues when temperatures drop. A single crack can result in frozen pipes and expensive water damage. A burst pipe can cause extensive damage to your home.

The pipes most at risk are those located in unheated interior spaces such as basements, attics and garages, but even pipes within cabinets and exterior walls can freeze. You can follow these winter plumbing tips to prevent weather-related plumbing issues from happening in your home.

Steps that can help avoid frozen pipes

Before temperatures drop, follow the preventive measures below to protect your pipes.

Inside your home

  • Insulate pipes
    • Pipe insulation materials vary based on project needs. Generally, polyethylene foam and fiberglass pipe sleeves are recommended for very cold temperatures due to their high R-values.
    • Heat tape for pipes can be applied and turned on during cold weather to maintain temperatures within the pipes. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely when choosing this route.
  • Seal cracks and openings
    • Use caulk or apply spray foam insulation to any cracks that might let in cold air, especially in places where pipes and connections run from inside to outside the home.
  • Maintain heat
    • Keep your thermostat at a minimum of 55-60°F during winter months, even while away.
  • Open cabinet doors
    • Opening bathroom and kitchen cabinet doors allows warm air to circulate around the pipes. Pipes under sinks and in basements are especially vulnerable to freezing.
  • Let faucets drip
    • If you can’t maintain heat in your home during extremely cold weather, consider allowing your faucets to drip. Running water through pipes can help prevent them from freezing and relieve pressure on pipes, making them less likely to burst. (Always heed the advice of your local authorities.)
    • When choosing which faucet to drip, prioritize faucets furthest from your water supply and those with pipes on the outside of your home’s insulation.
  • Install water leak detectors
    • If a leak is detected, these water monitoring devices will automatically turn off the water to prevent further damage.

Outside your home

Keep garage doors closed

  • Water supply lines or pipes in your garage can easily freeze at low temperatures.

Disconnect and drain hoses

  • Close the inside valves connected to your outdoor hose bibs, then disconnect your outside hoses and open the outdoor hose bibs to allow any water remaining in the pipe to drain. Remember to close the bibs again after the water drains.
  • Water in connected hoses that freezes can expand and eventually cause pipes to burst. Even frost-proof faucets and freeze-resistance plumbing can burst if a hose is connected.

Insulate external faucets and pipes

  • Rubber pipe sleeves and heat tape are common outdoor materials.
  • Pay special attention to pipes in unheated areas like garages and crawlspaces.

Drain sprinkler systems

  • Sprinkler systems need a final blow-out, forcing compressed air through the irrigation lines. Frozen water left in the lines can expand and cause cracks in pipes and fittings.
  • Professional winterization services can take care of these tasks if you don’t have a compressor or feel more comfortable outsourcing.

Winterize swimming pools

  • If you have a swimming pool, drain the pipes by following the directions provided by the manufacturer or installer.

What to do if pipes freeze

If the water only drips or trickles out when you turn on your faucet, it’s likely that you have a frozen pipe. You’ll need to act quickly to thaw the pipe, but do it carefully to avoid creating any further damage. Here are some tips to get the water flowing again:

  • Shut off the main water valve
    • Make sure you know the location of the main shut-off at all times so you can find it easily during an emergency.
    • Turning off the main valve can prevent further freezing and potential bursts. 
  • Locate the frozen pipe
    • Frozen pipes will often be in exterior or poorly heated areas like basements and attics.
    • You may see condensation or small cracks on the surface of the pipe.
    • Frozen pipes will often feel colder than those with running water. 
  • Apply heat
    • Wrap an electric heating pad around each of the frozen pipes or heat the areas with a hair dryer.
    • Avoid open flames and extreme heat sources.
    • Continue applying heat until water flow returns to normal. 
  • Open faucets
    • Opening your faucets will allow melted water to flow out while you’re thawing frozen pipes and will reduce pressure buildup inside the pipes.
  • Contact a professional plumber
    • Be aware of the risks of thawing a frozen pipe incorrectly, and make an informed decision on whether to attempt it yourself or call an expert.

If your frozen pipe bursts

Even a small crack in a pipe can cause flooding and serious structural damage. If a pipe bursts, immediately take steps to mitigate the damage:

  • Turn off electricity in affected areas
  • Shut off the main water valve
  • Document the damage
    • Take photos for potential insurance claims, noting affected items and areas.
  • Contact a professional plumber
    • Reach out to plumbing and emergency services to assess the extent of the damage, and repair and dry out the damaged area.
  • Reach out to your insurance company
    • Understand both your level of coverage and the next steps you’ll need to take.

Understanding the importance of preventing frozen pipes and how to keep pipes from freezing is a big part of being prepared. Be proactive and regularly maintain your pipes to prevent the need for emergency pipe-thawing. But have these steps handy so you’ll know what to do if pipes freeze in your home this winter.

As the cold season approaches, make sure to check out our tips on how to winterize your home, ensuring you stay warm and avoid any winter-related home issues.

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