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How to prevent water pipes from freezing – Forbes Advisor

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When temperatures drop, there is a significant risk of your pipes freezing. In the winter, burst pipes are one of the most common causes of property damage, causing thousands of dollars in water damage. Pipes in unheated indoor spaces, like your attic, garage, and basement, are almost waiting to freeze in freezing weather. Pipes that freeze most frequently include:

  • Exposed pipes, such as swimming pool supply lines and garden lines
  • Water supply lines in unheated areas like basements and garages
  • Pipes running against exterior walls without insulation.

The good news is that there are ways to prevent pipes from freezing without spending too much money or time. Read on to find out how to prevent your pipes from freezing and thaw them properly if they do.

5 tips to prevent frozen pipes

As soon as the temperatures start to drop outside, you need to start taking preventative measures to protect your pipes from freezing. If you’ve missed these preventive measures, you might recognize frozen pipes when you notice reduced flow at faucets – this is the first sign of frost forming in pipes.
So here are some steps you can take to winterize your pipes and prevent this from happening:

1. Keep the garage door closed

If you have water supply lines in the garage that are not insulated, keep the garage door closed as long as possible. It will also help keep the heat inside the house and keep your thermal energy bills from skyrocketing.

2. Let the faucets run for a while

For all your faucets served by exposed pipes, letting cold water drip from the faucet can help prevent freezing. When running water, even at a trickle, the constant flow of water prevents the pipes from freezing in the first place.

3. Keep a stable thermostat

Try to keep your thermostat at a comfortable temperature that works day and night. When your pipes experience a cold snap, they are more likely to freeze. The same goes for your thermostat if you plan to leave for the winter. Leave the house temperature at no less than 55°F.

4. Seal the cracks

Spend some time inspecting your property and seal or caulk any cracks that can let in cold air. Be especially careful where pipes run from the inside to the outside of the house, such as water pipes.

5. Drain outdoor faucets

Be sure to close and drain all outside faucets. Ideally, you want to protect them with faucet covers throughout the winter months. You can also disconnect garden hoses and shut off the water from the pipes leading to any outside faucets.

Prevent Frozen Pipes While You’re Away

If you plan to winter elsewhere, don’t forget to winterize your home. Before leaving, take steps to prevent frozen pipes, such as:

  • Adjust the thermostat: Don’t leave the thermostat below 55°F and replace the batteries in your thermostat to ensure it stays on while you’re away.
  • Ask for help: Contact a friend or neighbor to check your house to make sure it’s warm enough to prevent freezing.
  • Shut off the water supply: Close and drain the water system. Keep in mind that your sprinkler system and fire protection may be disabled when you turn off the water, so take precautions there as well.

The right way to thaw frozen pipes

If you discover frozen pipes, inspect all water supply lines for breaks or cracks. If you find broken pipes, turn off the main water supply to the house. Call a professional plumber immediately for help to prevent pipes from bursting and potentially causing damage.

For frozen pipes without cracks or breaks, you can safely thaw the pipes yourself. Your first step should always be to open the faucet of the affected pipe. Even if there is only a trickle of water coming out, the water flow can help slowly thaw the pipe.

Different Ways to Thaw Exposed Pipes

  • Wrap a section of the cushion using an electric heating pad.
  • Point a hair dryer upward over a section of the pipe. Keep aiming the hair dryer at different areas of the hose until you see most of the ice melt away.
  • Wrap the pipe in warm, damp towels. Continue to stir the wraps as they lose heat. Although this approach may be slower, it is often considered the safest option, especially if you cannot tell if the pipe is broken.
  • Place a portable heater next to the pipe. Move the heater to different sections of the pipe until the water pressure returns to normal.

As tempting as it may be, don’t use an open-flame appliance; the high heat can damage the pipes and cause a burst, especially if there is a crack in the pipes. Simultaneously, if one of your pipes bursts, you want to shut off and drain the water system.

Different ways to thaw closed pipes

  • Mount the thermostat inside the house. Higher temperatures can help thaw pipes inside walls or crawl spaces.
  • If necessary (and possible), cut out a section of the wall to access the pipes. Use one of the same methods to thaw exposed frozen pipes.

If you can’t reach the frozen pipes or can’t locate the frozen area, it’s always best to call a licensed plumber to help you with the process. Frozen water pipes can pose a potential hazard if not thawed properly.

Permanent Pipe Freeze Protection Solutions

A longer-term solution to prevent pipes from freezing is to add insulation to spaces like attics, basements, and other crawl spaces. Even if the climate where you live doesn’t often have freezing conditions, pipe insulation is a relatively inexpensive project that can protect your pipes. In these cases, wrapping the pipes in heating tape or heating cables with a thermostat control can help prevent long-term pipe freezing.

Another option is to replace outdoor faucets with freeze-proof options or divert pipes from cold spaces inside the house. The latter option can be a more expensive and permanent solution, but can be useful for homes that typically experience freezing temperatures.

For cold spaces, consider adding supplemental heat, such as a radiator, to rooms where pipes are at risk of freezing. Placing a portable heater in attics and basements can help bring extra heat to those areas without overloading your thermostat.

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