As winter cranks up and temperatures fall, we’ve entered the frozen pipe season again. But you can dramatically reduce your chances of joining this unwelcome club by taking a few simple steps.
Why do pipes freeze?
Your pipes can freeze for any combination of reasons:
- Quick drops in temperature
- Poor insulation
- Setting thermostats too low
How do I keep my pipes from freezing?
You can’t keep the temperature from dropping, but you can protect your pipes.
- If you haven’t already done so, insulate any pipes in your crawl space and attic. Pipe freezing is especially an issue in warmer climates where pipes run through un-insulated or under-insulated spaces like these. Pay attention to pipes that are adjacent to exterior walls inside your structure as well. Both hot and cold lines should be insulated.
- Seal leaks that let cold air into spaces where pipes are located. If it’s cold enough, even a small opening could let in enough cold air to freeze a pipe.
- Disconnect garden hoses and drain sprinkler systems to reduce the chance of freezing at those points.
When a hard freeze is coming:
- Let warm water trickle from faucets overnight, particularly on an exterior wall or at the end of a long stretch of unprotected pipe.
- Open cabinet doors, especially near exterior walls, to allow heat to reach uninsulated pipes under sinks, etc. (Make sure harmful cleaners or other household chemicals are out of the reach of children.)
- Don’t turn your thermostat down at night during extreme cold. Further drops in temperature could be enough to cause a problem. Your heating bill may go up a little, but that’s better than an expensive repair job if a pipe freezes and bursts.
My pipes froze…now what?
Don’t assume your pipes will automatically burst if they’ve frozen. No reason to panic yet.
- Turn on your faucets and leave them on. As the frozen area starts to melt, water will start moving again and help more ice to melt.
- Try to locate the frozen area of the pipe.
- Apply heat to the frozen area if possible. You can use an electric heating pad, electric hair dryer, a portable space heater, or wrap the pipes in towels soaked in hot water. CAUTION: never use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater or other open flame that could create a fire hazard. Such a device could also boil the water, causing the pipe to explode.
If these steps don’t do the trick, or if you can’t find the frozen area or don’t feel confident about performing these steps, call a licensed plumber.
What if a pipe bursts?
Turn the water off at the main shutoff valve and leave the faucets on. Call a licensed plumber immediately to repair the pipe.