How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

By Angelica Frey

When temperatures dip below 32°F, water in pipes is prone to freezing. Frozen water expands and can burst pipes. In fact, when water freezes, it expands in volume by 9%, and the pressure inside the pipes can increase from, say, 40 psi to more than 2,000 psi. Burst pipes can mean water damage to walls, floors, foundation, and furniture, as well as risk of mold and mildew.

Here’s how to prevent frozen pipes this winter.

How to prevent pipes from freezing

  • Keep your house warm. Pipes that are in walls and basements will benefit from a toasty home.
  • For pipes easily within reach, you can apply heating tape. Handle heating tape with care, as it presents burn risks similar to those associated with space heaters.
  • For a more permanent solution, fit pipes with foam, rubber, or fiberglass sleeves. This is a straightforward solution for exposed pipes located in an attic or basement, but it’s quite a costly operation if walls have to be opened to reach pipes.
  • If you’re unable to get to your pipes, let faucets trickle slightly, which will relieve pressure and keep the water in your pipes moving. We recommend this only as a one-time quick fix rather than a long-term solution, as this method wastes water and affects your water bill.
  • Drain sprinkler systems and disconnect garden hoses. Water can freeze inside a hose and subsequently increase pressure throughout your home’s plumbing system.

Freeze prevention Cover water pipes with insulation to prevent bursts when temperatures drop

How to thaw frozen pipes

The first sign of a frozen or freezing pipe is reduced water flow. If you’re having trouble with flow or smell an odd odor coming from the pipes, then you may have a freezing problem. Here’s what to do.

  1. First, turn up the heat in your home by a few degrees.
  2. Arrange fans throughout your house to blow the warm air into cooler spaces. If the pipes are located inside the cabinets or under the sinks or pantries, open those doors to allow warm air in.
  3. Identify which pipe or pipes have frozen by turning on faucets. If water does not easily run, your frozen pipe is connected to that faucet.
  4. Check frozen pipes for leaks and cracks using a flashlight. If you find a crack in a pipe, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve and call a professional to remedy the problem.
  5. If you suspect a frozen pipe in the walls, place an infrared lamp about two feet from the wall.
  6. The most vulnerable pipes are often exposed in basements or crawl spaces. These should receive gradual, direct heat using a blow dryer; space heater; or warm, wet towels. Be sure to turn on the faucet to relieve pressure in the pipe while you apply the heat.

Always keep electrical devices out of contact with water. If a pipe is leaking or there is water in the area, use warm towels rather than a blow dryer or space heater.

PVC pipes and outdoor pipes should be heated slowly and cautiously to prevent damaging the pipe.

What to do if a pipe bursts

Close the main water line. The shut-off valve is usually located near the water meter. Smaller valves are typically near sinks and toilets.

If you see standing water or leaks in your home or basement, remove what you can in order to prevent mold and mildew buildup. Leave water damage repairs to the professionals, so call a plumber or a contractor.

Preventing frozen pipes in vacation homes

Now that you know how to prevent frozen pipes in your primary home, remember to be diligent about the upkeep of pipes in your second home and vacation properties. Second homes need extra care, especially if they remain unoccupied for long periods of time during colder months.

While a house is unoccupied, the main water supply should be turned off, and the systems drained. Once the water is off, get as much water out of the supply pipes as possible by opening the faucets and flushing the toilets until you fully empty the tanks.

The indoor temperature should remain between 55°F and 60°F to prevent condensation on pipes, which can create mold and mildew.

If you want to be extra cautious, enlist a neighbor, friend, or property manager to check on the house after storms and cold spells.

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