Freezing weather may bring discomforts, but one of them, frozen water pipes, can be avoided with a little planning and a few simple steps. When frigid arctic air hits, water freezes, and as it freezes it expands — causing pipes to burst and possible flooding to occur.
Pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed to severe cold, such as outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas such as basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets. Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation are also subject to freezing.
There are several things that people can do to prepare for freezing weather, and there is one important thing everyone needs to know: Determine where the water shut-off valve is in the house and how to use it in case pipes freeze and break.
Before Onset of Cold Weather, Prevent Freezing of Water Supply Lines
- Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following the manufacturer’s or installer’s directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is environmentally harmful and is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.
- Remove, drain, and carefully store hoses used outdoors. Purchase insulation covers and cover all outside faucets.
- Check around the home for areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated. A hot water supply line can freeze just as a cold water supply can freeze if water is not running through the pipe and the water temperature becomes cold.
- Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a “pipe sleeve” or installing UL-listed “heat tape,” “heat cable,” or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Many products are available at your local building supplier. Pipes should be carefully wrapped, with ends butted tightly and joints wrapped with tape. Follow manufacturers’ recommendations for installing and using these products. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes.
- To maintain higher temperatures, add insulation to attics, basements, and crawl spaces.
During Cold Weather, Take Preventive Action
- Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of the reach of children.
- During extreme cold, keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. If you are going to be away for any period of time, leave the heat set to a temperature no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
- If you plan to be gone for more than a day, you may have to take other precautionary measures.
How to Thaw a Frozen Pipe Safely
- If your house or basement is flooding, turn off the water valve and call 911. If there is no flooding but you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, make sure your main water valve is turned on. If it is, suspect a frozen pipe. Locate the suspected frozen area of the water pipe.
- Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt more ice in the pipe.
- Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device. Make sure heating pad, hair dryers, or other electrical devices do not come into contact with water.
- Apply heat until full water pressure and flow is restored.
- If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
- Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may also freeze.