Thousands of people experience frozen pipes each year. In addition to filling a room with water, a burst pipe can also cost thousands of dollars in damage. Even a small crack can send as much as 250 gallons of water into your home in one day. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to protect pipes and avoid the hassles associated with bursts. Watch or read, your choice. (Written tips are below.)
- Do a visual inspection of your home’s exterior. Seal any you see, and look for air leaks close to the pipes. If there is cold air leaking in even through a tiny space, pipes can freeze quickly and burst. Every leak should be sealed properly with insulation or caulk.
- Bundle up pipes before cold temperatures arrive. Use insulation in attics, garages and crawl spaces. Be generous with the insulation, because more protection means pipes are less likely to burst.
- Set the thermostat to 55 degrees or higher during the winter (the warmer the better). Temperatures in the attic or behind the walls can become cold enough to let the pipes freeze if the thermostat is turned lower than this, especially if you are not there using the water.
- Put outdoor hoses away before temperatures drop in the winter months, then shut off their indoor valves.
- In extreme cold, keep one faucet SLOWLY dripping warm water at all times. Even the smallest trickle can help prevent pipes from freezing. Whenever possible, use a faucet that abuts an outside wall.
- Wrap high-risk pipes (i.e. those in an unheated garage) with heat cables or heat tape. Place this around pipes that are at a higher risk of bursting. (Before using any of these types of products, make sure they are approved by testing organizations. Follow the installation instructions carefully.)
- Leaving town? The safest choice is to turn off your water where it comes into your house from the street, then run a sink for a minute or two so your pipes aren’t the water in your pipes has room to expand. Or, you can just leave your heat at or above 55 and have someone check your home daily if temperatures drop significantly. They should be on the lookout for any water damage to drywall or ceilings, standing water, a dripping faucet is still dripping and that you still have power (so the house stays warm enough to prevent frozen pipes).
Spotting a frozen pipe
If the faucet is turned on but water does not come out, this is a sign that the pipe is frozen. Leave the faucet on. It is possible to thaw a frozen pipe with a hair dryer or space heater. Start close to the faucet, and work toward the coldest section of the pipe. Avoid using any open flames or torches to defrost pipes.
In case of pipe burst
Turn the water off at your home’s main shutoff valve, where water comes in from the street water line, and turn all your home’s faucets on to drain the water out of your pipes. Call a plumber immediately. Since cold temperatures can coincide with winter vacations, if you’ve been gone a few days, you could be walking in to a lot of damage. If damage is significant enough, take photos of the damage in case you decide to file a claim on your homeowners’ insurance.