Winterize Your Pipes: What to Do About Frozen Pipes & How to Prevent Them

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When the temperature plummets, your main focus is probably on cranking up the heat, throwing an extra log on the fire, or enjoying a nice hot cup of soup — anything to keep warm and toasty.

Another thing that needs to be at the top of your list during a cold snap is your plumbing. Frozen pipes are one of the biggest risks for property damage when temperatures drop below freezing.

It’s worth investing a little bit of time and money to avoid this potentially expensive headache. A single frozen pipe that bursts can easily cost you more than $5,000 in water damage. This far exceeds the cost of keeping your home above freezing or buying pipe insulation for exposed areas.

What Causes Pipes to Burst?

It’s just basic Science 101: water expands as it freezes.

That expanding ice puts pressure on any container, including the pipes in your home. A large amount of water can expand so much that it causes the pipe to burst.

A pipe that becomes clogged with ice may also have a build-up of pressure between the blockage site and the faucet.

Any pipes on your property that are exposed to extreme cold are vulnerable to freezing, and should get extra attention during the cold winter months. A few examples include:

  • Outdoor hose bibs
  • Swimming pool supply lines
  • Water sprinkler lines
  • Pipes running along exterior walls with little to no insulation
  • Unheated interior areas, such as basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages or kitchen cabinets

How Can You Keep Your Pipes from Freezing?

Your biggest rule of thumb for prevention is to keep freezing temperatures away from the pipes as much as possible. The American Red Cross recommends a number of steps to take before the mercury falls below freezing:

  • Drain water from swimming pools or water sprinkler supply lines.
  • Remove, drain and store outdoor hoses.
  • Protect all hose bibs — close indoor supply valves, open bibs to let water drain and keep the valve open to let frozen water expand without bursting the pipe.
  • Make sure you have adequate insulation in attics, basements and crawl spaces.
  • Check supply lines in unheated areas such as garages and underneath cabinets. Apply insulation to hot and cold water pipes.

You can insulate vulnerable pipes with pipe sleeves, heat tape, heat cable or even a ¼” of newspaper. NEVER put antifreeze in water supply lines, as it is a harmful chemical that damages the environment and is dangerous to humans, animals and landscaping vegetation.

Once the cold weather arrives, here are some things to do until the temperature goes back above freezing:

  • Letting faucets drip can help. Although moving water can still freeze, keeping faucets open may reduce pressure buildup in case of an ice blockage further down the pipe.
  • Keep garage doors closed as much as possible if there are water supply lines inside.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to let warm indoor air circulate around the pipes. Be sure and move harmful chemicals out of the reach of children or pets.
  • Leave your thermostat on, both at home and when you’re away. Yes, your utility bill will be higher than usual, but that’s still less expensive than the cost to repair water damage caused by frozen pipes.

What to Do When Pipes Freeze

You’re most likely to experience frozen pipes along exterior walls, or in locations where water service lines enter the home.

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out — or even worse, nothing at all — you may have a frozen pipe. Check all faucets in your home during a cold spell for this tell-tale sign of ice blockage.

If the pipes have not burst you may be able to thaw them before any serious damage occurs.

  • Keep the faucets open. Running water through the pipe may help to melt the ice.
  • If you have easy access, apply heat to the frozen section of pipe. You can use an electric hair dryer, heating pad or portable space heater — and be sure to keep all of these items clear of flammable materials. You may also wrap cold pipes in towels to warm them.
  • Do NOT use items which could pose a fire hazard. No-nos include blowtorches, kerosene, propane heaters, charcoal stoves or any device with an open flame.
  • Apply heat until further water pressure is restored, which indicates that the ice has melted and cleared your pipe.
  • If the frozen area is not accessible, or if you are unable to locate it, contact a licensed plumber to have the problem corrected professionally.

What to Do if a Pipe Bursts

Fixing a pipe that bursts is not a DIY job. You will need the services of a qualified, licensed plumber.

Consumer Reports recommends the following steps if a frozen pipe bursts:

  • Turn off the water at the main shutoff valve.
  • Turn on the faucet to relieve water pressure buildup.
  • Apply heat to the frozen section, if it’s accessible, until full water pressure is restored.
  • Contact a licensed plumber to repair the broken pipe and for recommendations on repairing any water damage to your property.

 

Do you have questions about preventing frozen pipes in your property? Do you need help repairing damage caused by a frozen pipe?

Contact Elite Renovations today. Our experienced plumbing experts will answer your questions and provide the timely, professional service you need.

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