When temperatures plunge, the risk of frozen pipes rises. How can you keep pipes from freezing in your home and what should you do if it happens? We’ve got this down cold!
Vulnerable to winter’s onslaught
Pipes are at risk when the temperature falls below 20 degrees for more than a couple of days. Plumbing near the end of its lifespan are particularly vulnerable to freezing during winter blasts. Pipes in older homes are also more susceptible because these homes often have poorer insulation and drafty leaks around windows, doors and under sinks.
While frozen pipes are obviously more common in the northern United States, homes in southern states are also at risk during the inevitable cold snaps winter brings, which send southerners scrambling to the home improvement store where insulation supplies vanish quickly from shelves.
Giving plumbing a warm coat
Last-minute measures may prevent frozen pipes, but the better time to prepare for frigid temperatures is before they come. Exposed pipes that are not wrapped or are in a poorly insulated part of the house are most vulnerable. Target pipes in these most vulnerable places first: the attic, the basement, or exterior walls.
To protect exposed plumbing, foam insulation wraps that are split lengthwise are available at home improvement stores for less than a dollar per linear foot. Cut the wraps to length and tape them securely. Be sure to wrap and cap outside faucets with foam covers as well.
In the attic and basement, wrap the pipes as described, but also make sure you have plenty of insulation throughout the rafter spaces. If you don’t already have an insulated layer called a radiant barrier on the underside of your home’s roof decking, consider getting it. The barrier also keep your attic cooler in summer.
If you have an older home, examine windows, doors and under sinks for leaks, and caulk or replace seals where necessary.
Drip-drip beats gush-gush
Where the plumbing is in an outside wall, drip water from interior cold water faucets when icy temperatures arrive. You may not like watching water drip into the sink, but that cost is pennies compared to the thousands of dollars you’ll end up spending to repair damage from a burst pipe. Also open cabinet doors below sinks to allow warm air in. Set ceiling fans to spin in a clockwise direction and run them at a low speed to draw warm air down to floor level and inside opened cabinets. Keep room doors open so heat can circulate throughout the house.
In a chilled basement or garage, use a space heater if you can safely do so. Keep it well clear of any flammable material.
Keep your home’s thermostat set at least in the 60s, even at night. If you go out of town, don’t lower it below 55.
Thawing frozen pipes
If you turn on a tap on a cold morning and little or no water comes out, you may have a frozen pipe. To thaw it, first try turning on hot water to thaw the frozen spot. If that fails, turn the water off at the meter or main supply valve to limit any possible leak. Then apply a heating pad or warm towels fresh from the dryer to places where the freeze might be. Do not use high heat from a hair dryer, space heater or an open flame.
Call a plumber if you cannot thaw a pipe, if the pipe is inaccessible or if you have a leak.
Leak detection alarms alert you when water starts leaking, before major damage can be done. Place them under sinks, in the attic and basement, and near the water heater. These alarms are inexpensive but could catch a leak early and prevent costly damage.