How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

It’s officially fall, and a sudden cold snap could mean more than just an opportunity to break out your old sweaters from the closet.

It could mean flooding, property damage and massive repair bills.

Frozen pipes are common this time of year. With all of the commotion around school starting, work and settling into the fall, many homeowners neglect to winterize their homes and protect against freezing pipes.

Next thing you know, temperatures drop overnight. The water in the home’s plumbing system will turn to ice, and because water expands when it turns to ice, it can cause those pipes to burst. You’ll need to know how to prevent frozen pipes.

Keep your pipes from freezing

Icicles are forming due to cold weather.

The easiest way to save yourself the headache — and soaked carpet — is simply by keeping the temperature in your home above freezing.

Many of the floods that plumbers respond to this time of year are caused by simple oversights: The homeowner accidentally left a window open or forgot to turn on the heater. That’s why Chicago’s Advantage Plumbing, Heating and AC recommends taking these steps:

  • Do not set the thermostat in your home any lower than 55°F
  • If your property is vacant, periodically check on it to ensure that the heating system hasn’t failed and it is still warm enough
  • As well, if you plan to leave a home vacant, you can shut off and drain the water system. One note: If the home uses a fire protection sprinkler system, it will lose this protection.

Now that you’ve got those simple steps squared away, it’s time to do some simple winterization. (Photo courtesy.)

How to winterize pipes

If everything inside is staying warm, you now just need to worry about plumbing that might be exposed to cold weather. Specifically, that means outdoor plumbing.

Fort Worth’s Benjamin Franklin Plumbing advises homeowners to:

  • Before doing any other winterization, firstly repair any leaks on your outdoor faucets and pipes.
  • Disconnect hoses and drain all of your outdoor faucets and pipes. If your outdoor plumbing has a shutoff valve, you can now shut it off.
  • Wrap any exposed faucets or pipes in insulation or plumbing wrap and cover with a waterproof bag. Remember not to wrap the insulation too tight, or it might lose its effectiveness.

As for your interior plumbing, Greater Boston Plumbing and Heating recommends:

  • Insulating any pipes within 10-12 inches of the outside wall.
  • Sealing off any air intrusions in areas with plumbing. This is akin to the “don’t leave the window open” advice above — if your home is leaking air at vents, cable lines or other electrical work, use caulking or expanding foam to seal the holes.

Got that squared away? Your home is all set, except for one extra set of precautions to take if you’re expecting especially cold weather.

How to survive the cold snap

Running your water helps to prevent your pipes from freezing.Running your water is a simple way to prevent freezing (Photo courtesy).

If the meteorologist is warning that polar bear weather is on its way, you can take a few more steps to ensure that you don’t wake up the next morning on an ice floe.

  • Run your faucets. Just the slightest trickle will get the water moving in your pipes and keep them from freezing.
  • Open your cabinet doors. The improved air circulation will keep your kitchen and bathroom plumbing warmer.

How to thaw frozen pipes

We’ll cover one last scenario. If you wake up one morning — let’s say the power went out and the heating failed — and your shower won’t run, what do you do?

According to the home improvement experts at Dave’s Corner:

  • If a pipe has burst, immediately find your home’s water shutoff and turn off your water. It is usually near the water meter or near the street. Once that’s done, call a plumber.
  • If there are no visible bursts, you can begin attempting to thaw the pipe.
  • Turn on the faucet and turn up the thermostat, as close to 80°F as possible. The rising ambient temperature in the home will thaw the ice in the pipes, and the open faucet will allow it to clear.
  • If one fixture is working but another isn’t, turn on both the hot and cold taps on the working fixture. This can help dislodge the ice blockage in your pipes.
  • If you know where the ice blockage is and you can get to it safely, you can use a hair dryer or space heater to warm the pipe. Start from the faucet and work backwards, and be especially careful. Unattended space heaters can potentially start fires.
  • Pay close attention for any strange sounds in walls. That could be sign of a leak or burst in a pipe.