Aluminum air pipes

When temperatures drop, protect water pipes before they freeze

While it may be late in the season to think about frozen and burst water pipes, water bursting through frozen pipes is a common sight in homes during cold weather. As temperatures dip into the 30s during the day and into the low 20s and teens at night, this week it’s better late than never to remind residents and businesses to take steps to avoid freezing water pipes.

Taking action as soon as colder temperatures arrive can help protect you from both repair costs and higher winter water bills. To prepare, know the location of your main water shutoff valve. Eliminate sources of cold air near water and protect exposed pipes by wrapping them with some type of insulation.

When temperatures stay below freezing, circulate water through the pipes, allowing a small trickle of water to flow. If your pipes freeze, turn off the water immediately. Thaw the pipes with warm air, not direct heat. Avoid leaving space heaters unattended and avoid using kerosene heaters or open flames and turn the water back on slowly once the pipes have thawed.

How cold must the pipes freeze?

Many homeowners believe that because water freezes when the air temperature reaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit, their pipes are in danger as soon as the thermometer drops to that number. Well, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that’s not the case.

You need to be concerned about your faucets when the weather forecaster predicts temperatures of 20 degrees or less. At this point, the quality of your pipe insulation will determine whether your pipes are sufficiently protected. With a reasonable amount of insulation, even pipes in an unheated area could take up to six hours to freeze. On the other hand, if you have little or no insulation, your pipes could freeze in as little as three hours.

How to prevent pipes from freezing

  • Drain the water from the pool and water supply lines following the manufacturer’s or installer’s instructions. Avoid getting antifreeze in these lines if possible (keeping in mind that antifreeze is harmful to the environment and very dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife and landscaping).
  • Thoroughly flush your plumbing system. If water pipes sag or bend, there may be low spots that are difficult to drain completely. To be more effective, use compressed air to blow out the lines. If not done correctly, some water will remain in the low points of the lines which can freeze.
  • Disconnect, drain and store hoses used outdoors. Close interior valves supplying exterior hose bibs. Open the faucets outside the pipe to allow the water to flow. Remember to keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to rupture.
  • Check in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets where water supply lines are located in unheated areas.
  • Insulate hot and cold water lines in these areas to help prevent freezing. Use specific products to insulate water lines such as a “pipe sleeve” or install heating tape, heating cable, or similar UL listed materials on exposed water lines.
  • Let a faucet in your home drip lightly. Moving water (even a drop) will help prevent pipes from freezing.
  • In cold winter weather, 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 harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of the reach of children.

When you leave the house for more than a few days

If you plan to be away from home for an extended period in cold weather:

  • Leave the heating in your house. Set it to a temperature no lower than 55°F.
  • Shut off water supply and drain pipes or fixtures.
  • Leave all faucets open once you have turned off the main water supply. If the house loses power, open valves will help prevent pipes from bursting. Additionally, closing the main valve will ensure that even if there is a break, the result will be minor, compared to an open line running wild!
  • Even if you do all of the above, have a neighbor walk around your house once a day – just to help watch for unforeseen events.
  • Have emergency numbers such as a plumber, electrician, roofer and PuroClean on hand in case of a problem.
  • Have your HVAC system serviced by a professional.
  • Before leaving, turn off your water heater. (See owner’s manual for procedures.)
  • Install storm windows and/or close shutters to conserve heat.
  • Clean gutters and downspouts to ensure proper water drainage.
  • Maintain your sump pump to keep it running smoothly. Adding a backup power source is prudent.
  • Unplug all non-essential electrical appliances.
  • Inform the local police if you will be out of town.

How to thaw pipes

  • Locate the frozen pipe – If you don’t know which pipe is frozen, turn on all the faucets in your home. Check which faucet is not releasing water at all or just a trickle. The pipe leading to this faucet is probably frozen. Check all the other faucets in your home to see if you have any other frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze as well.
  • Open the faucet – Once you have located the frozen pipe, open the faucet leading to the frozen pipe. Open the hot and cold handles. This will allow water to drain once you begin to thaw the pipe.
  • Start defrosting near the tap – When thawing a frozen pipe, the best practice is to start closer to the faucet and then work your way down to the frozen section. If you start closer to the blockage, the ice melt could get stuck behind the blockage. This creates more pressure in the pipe and increases the chances of the pipe breaking.
  • Thaw Exposed Pipes – There are several ways to thaw pipes that you can access:
    • Point a hair dryer at the frozen pipe, starting near the faucet. Follow proper dryer safety precautions and do not come in contact with water when using the dryer.
    • Wrap warm towels, which have been soaked in hot water, around the frozen pipe. This method is slower but potentially safer than the ones above.
    • Apply electrical heating tape directly to the pipe. This tape insulates the pipe, de-icing it. You can leave the heating tape on the pipe and turn it on/off when you need it.
  • Thaw Closed Pipes – You can unfreeze pipes that you do not have direct access to in different ways:
    • Turn up your home’s heating and wait for the increased indoor temperature to thaw the frozen pipe.
    • Place an infrared lamp in front of the part of the wall where the frozen pipe is. The heat from the lamp could penetrate the wall and help the pipe to defrost.
    • As a last resort, cut out the section of drywall in front of the frozen pipe for easy access. You can then use one of the exposed pipe thawing methods.
  • Know the risks:
    • When you attempt to thaw a frozen pipe yourself using a heat source, you run the risk of injury and fire.
    • Be sure to take appropriate safety precautions when using electrical equipment.
    • Also, if you don’t start thawing near the faucet, the pipe could burst and spill water into your home.
    • Also, do not use a torch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open-flame appliance!
  • After pipes thawturn off all water to faucets and the ice maker and monitor the water meter for any unseen leaks.

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