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Freezing Pipes in Winter: What to do!

No one wants to deal with a burst pipe. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) estimates that burst pipes can cause in excess of $5,000 in water damage, and that says nothing of the destruction of sentimental belongings and the time and hassle incurred.

As we head into winter, though, many people have no idea whether their pipes are ready to withstand the cold weather. Thankfully, with a little bit of planning, and relatively minor expenditures, you can prepare your home and prevent your pipes from freezing in this winter.

Why Do Pipes Freeze?

Water expands when it freezes, and this expansion can cause a rupture in the pipe. Generally, the break in the pipe happens between the frozen section and the faucet because the freeze increases the water pressure, and too much pressure bursts the pipe.

Pipes are particularly vulnerable to freezing if they’re not adequately protected from below-freezing temperatures.

Attention should be paid to sections of pipe that are outside or in un-insulated spaces (i.e. attics and garages), near cracks in walls and foundations, and around entry points for pipes and cable.

While the freezing temperature of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the critical outdoor temperature at which there is a high likelihood of pipes freezing in winter is 20 degrees.

It’s essential to address this vulnerability by insulating your pipes, thereby protecting pipes from freezing.

There are many steps you can take to protect yourself from pipes freezing in winter, each of which can have a big impact for little to no cost:

  • Keep faucets running with cold water. The constant flow of water, even at a very low trickle, maintains a temperature above freezing in your pipes.

  • Open interior doors. Even if a room is warm, the cabinet can be much cooler, and pipes housed there can be at risk. Keeping other doors in the house open helps heat to distribute more evenly to less warm rooms.

  • Keep your home heated throughout the winter. Though it may seem counter-intuitive to pay for heating when you’re on vacation or at work/school, it’s important to keep your thermostat set at or above 55 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.

  • Insulate at-risk pipes. A variety of insulation types are available at hardware stores and plumbing supply stores.

  • Use heating tape if insulation doesn’t seem like enough. This tape is a pricier solution, but will heat pipes when the temperature drops below a certain threshold.

  • Disconnect any hoses from outdoor faucets and drain them for winter storage. Drain any water remaining in the faucets, and shut off the corresponding valves.

  • If feasible, contact a plumber to reroute at-risk pipes.

  • Repair cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations that are near water pipes by sealing with caulking.

What to Do if a Pipe Freezes in Winter

If you try to run water, and only a trickle comes out, you are likely dealing with a frozen pipe. Your goal at this time should be to thaw the freeze and get water flowing normally again.

Leave the faucet open to release pressure and try to locate the frozen part of the pipe. Check areas of the pipe that run along exterior walls, through your attic, garage, or anywhere else they are likely to be unprotected.

Once you’ve located the frozen section, heat it up.

The following are safe ways to heat your pipe:

  • Electric heating pads, wrapped around the pipe

  • Electric hair dryer

  • Portable space heater (keep away from flammable materials)

  • Towels soaked in hot water, wrapped around the pipe

Don’t leave any electric heating tool unsupervised. Additionally, while the following tools might seem like a quick fix, DO NOT USE them, as they are unsafe and could cause a fire: