7 Tips to Make Sure Your Pipes Don’t Freeze
When temperatures start to descend below freezing, homeowners all around the country fall victim to burst pipes. Depending on where the pipe is and whether or not you’re home when the burst occurs, you could be looking at a massive repair and cleanup job if it happens to you. If you don’t have homeowners’ insurance, you might be out thousands of dollars. Not to mention all the lost time dealing with the cleanup.
That’s why it’s so important to make sure your home and your plumbing system is ready for winter.
If you live in a warmer climate like the Southern US, you might think you’re safe from burst pipes. But in reality, homes built in the south are usually not as winter-ready as their northern counterparts. Pipes in attics and basements are exposed. Exterior walls are left uninsulated.
A sudden cold snap could lead to ice forming in pipes, causing pressure increases and ruptures. If the air temperature falls below 20 degrees, your pipes could be in danger of freezing.
The best way to prevent freezing pipes is to winterize your home before it gets too cold. With a solid plan you can knock out the whole thing in a weekend, all without breaking the bank.
Keep in mind that when you’re preparing for winter, you want to be concerned with water supply pipes and not drain pipes. Drain pipes take away waste water and don’t hold water in them when not in use. When it comes to freezing pipes, the concern is about the pipes supplying water to your home.
Knowing the difference between the two is simple. Water supply pipes are usually an inch or less in diameter and are often paired up. Drain pipes are much bigger and do not come in pairs.
Insulate Your Pipes
When you’re getting your pipes ready for winter, the best way to start is by making sure your pipes are protected. Pipes that are in unheated areas in your home or run through exterior walls should be your number one concern. You’ll want to have these pipes well insulated for winter.
For exposed pipes in basements, attics and crawl spaces you can use insulation tape or foam insulation sleeves to cover up your pipes. The tape works best for bends and small sections, while the foam sleeves serve to protect long sections of water pipes. You can do both with few, if any, tools or DIY knowledge.
If you have any uninsulated pipes in your exterior walls than you’re in for a much bigger project. You’ll have to locate exactly where the pipes are running through your wall and remove some of the drywall to access the wall cavity.
In climates where cold winters are common, chances are any exterior wall pipes are already well insulated. It’s the warmer climates where freezing temperatures are rare where you run into problems.
Getting your pipes well insulated is a good first step. The next thing on your list should be addressing any cold drafts that might be getting into your home.
Seal Any Gaps in Exterior Walls
Insulation can only do so much. Sometimes cold air finds its way into our homes through gaps and creases in the walls.
The first place to look is where your water pipes travel through exterior walls.You can easily fill these gaps up with canned expanding foam. Give the can a good shake and spray it right into the gap all the way around the pipe. The foam will expand to over twice its size, sealing up the gap. You can come back the next day and cut away any excess foam, sand it down nice and smooth and paint over it.
Applying caulk to any seams along the floor or windows and doors where drafts can come in is another good way to winterize your home. While those drafts might not directly affect your pipes, if something ever happens to your heating system, you’ll want to keep the warm air in and the cold air out.
Don’t Forget About Outdoor Faucets
One particular area in our homes that is susceptible to freezing is our outdoor water faucets. They’re exposed to cold air all winter. Sometimes when they freeze, they burst right at the end of the spigot, directing any water damage away from your home. Other times you might not get so lucky. Ruptures can happen in the pipe beyond the spigot and cause flooding inside your house.
To start, disconnect any hoses you might have around your house. Next, shut off the water main and drain your outdoor spigots as much as you can. The less water in those pipes, the better.
Now, they do make winter-proof outdoor faucets that can withstand some pretty extreme temperatures. But if it’s already starting to freeze outside, upgrading will be a project that will have to wait for spring or summer.
The good news is outdoor faucet covers are an affordable investment. Most home improvement stores sell either the hard plastic or soft fabric covers for less than $10.
Let Your Faucets Trickle
It’s much harder for pipes to freeze (and burst) when there’s moving water inside. Leaving your faucets open just a bit and letting the water trickle out will keep things flowing. This is especially important if the faucets are fed by pipes exposed to the cold.
Keep an Eye on Your Thermostat
Planning on a winter getaway? It might sound smart to lower that thermostat to save a little cash on your heating bill while you’re gone. But setting it too low could put your pipes at risk.
You don’t have to have the heat blasting. Keeping it between 50 and 60 degrees will keep your home just warm enough to keep everything in working order. You don’t want any surprises when you come home.
Keep Kitchen and Bathroom Cabinets Open
The pipes under the sinks in kitchens and bathrooms don’t always get exposed to as much heat as the rest of the house. It’s almost like they’re anti-insulated in their protective cabinets. If it’s getting really cold outside, leave the cabinet doors open to let some warm air in.
Monitor Your Water Temperature and Pressure
When it comes to freezing temperature and bursting pipes, pressure and temperature go hand-in-hand. When water freezes, it expands. When this happens in your plumbing system, the water pressure increases, putting more strain on the pipes. High pressure and low temperatures together is a recipe for disaster.
With the Flo by Moen, you get a complete smart water solution. It monitors your water’s temperature and pressure and will alert you to any sudden changes. And it doesn’t matter where you are, with the Flo by Moen mobile app, you can shut your water off remotely if something doesn’t look right.
How to Defrost a Frozen Pipe
Let’s say you got around to winterizing your home a little too late, and you have a frozen pipe. If you can locate the part of the exposed pipe that’s frozen, you might be able to thaw it out on your own. You’ll need a hair dryer or a space heater.
The first thing you’ll want to do is turn on the fixture at the end of the pipe. If it’s completely frozen and no water is flowing out, that’s okay. Use the space heater or hair dryer to apply heat to the area of pipe where the freeze is. Once the frozen pipe begins to thaw, water should start trickling out of the fixture. Even a tiny trickly will help speed up the defrosting process.
Something you should never, ever do is try to defrost a frozen pipe using an open flame. Use a hot air source and be patient. Slowly but surely that ice will break free.
If you’re unlucky and the frozen pipe is behind a wall or beneath the floor, you’re better off calling a plumber immediately. Make sure you know where the water main is. If the pipe happens to burst before the plumber shows up, shut off that water main right away.
Prevention is Key
The best way to deal with frozen or burst pipes is to take preventative measures. Insulate your pipes, winterize your home and monitor your water pressure and temperature. When it comes to plumbing, preventative maintenance is always more affordable than dealing with disasters. You’ll feel much more at ease knowing your home is ready to handle the chill of winter.
Have you ever had a frozen or burst pipe? How did you deal with it? Share your story with us!