It Helps To Have Some "Pipe Savvy" During Frigid Cold Snaps

Water expands when it freezes, and that can spell trouble for water pipes during the winter. Unless adequately insulated, pipes that are exposed to extreme cold can freeze and break. But knowing how to prepare for cold temperatures can prevent problems and save you money on potentially expensive repairs. It doesn't matter whether the pipes in your home are plastic, copper, or steel. They can all freeze. That's when some frozen pipe know-how (before or after) can come in handy.

What to Do Before Cold Weather Arrives

Insulate hot and cold water pipes located in unheated areas of your home, such as the basement, crawl space, and attic, with foam pipe insulation. Pipes that run along exterior walls or enter your home through the foundation are highly vulnerable. Wrapping the pipes with UL-approved, thermostat-controlled heat tape is another option.

If you live in an area where temperatures below freezing don't occur frequently, wrapping pipes with newspaper provides some insulation. Adding insulation to unheated, interior areas that aren't insulated helps keep the temperature higher. It also helps to close off air vents to your home's crawl space.

Disconnect water hoses from outside faucets before the weather drops below freezing. Close off the shutoff valve to the line that provides water to the outdoor faucet. After you turn off the water supply, open the outside faucet to allow water in the pipe to drain. Keep the faucet open throughout the winter.

What to Do When Cold Weather Hits

Instead of lowering your thermostat at night, keep it set at the same temperature during extremely cold weather. Setting the temperature below 55 degrees may allow the unheated areas of your home to get too cold.

Let cold water drip from faucets when the temperature outside drops to a frigid level. Even a trickle of water running through pipes exposed to the cold can keep them from freezing. It also relieves built-up water pressure if the pipes freeze. Since plumbing under kitchen and bathroom sinks can freeze, allow warm air to circulate around the pipes by keeping the cabinet doors open, especially if the cabinets are located on exterior walls.

If your home has an attached garage through which water lines run, keep the garage doors closed tightly. Any pipe in the path of a cold draft can freeze.

What to Do If Your Pipes Freeze

Turn off the main water shutoff valve if pipes in your home freeze. Open the inside faucets.

If you are able to locate where a pipe is frozen, apply heat to that section. You can either apply heat directly to the pipe or warm the air around it. Use an electric dryer or wrap a heating pad around the pipe. You can use a portable space heater, but keep it a safe distance away from anything flammable.

Another method is to wrap the pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Never use a blow torch or any other kind of open flame to thaw frozen pipes. The key is to warm the pipes gradually. If freezing caused cracks in the pipe, you'll have a leak when the ice thaws. If you can't find the spot where a pipe is frozen, begin by applying heat at the interior faucet end and then work your way along the pipe.

Continue to apply heat until you have full water pressure. It may take time, but keep heating the surface of the pipe. Distribute the heat evenly; otherwise, if the pipe thaws too quickly, it could burst. When you're ready for water to flow through the pipes again, turn off all water faucets before turning the main water valve back on slowly.

Talk to places like Aalco-The Drain Doctor for more information.