There are few worse experiences as a home owner than having your pipes freeze and break.
It’s very messy, very costly, and very inconvenient…even if you have insurance.
Water expands as it freezes, which can cause enormous pressure on metal or plastic household pipes. This pressure can and often does cause household pipes to break. Pipes that are most likely to break are those exposed to severe cold, like pipes in unheated basements, garages, under cabinets, or those exposed to exterior walls with little insulation. Outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool lines and sprinkler lines are also vulnerable. This is why many people have water alarms to alert them of leaks.
How to Prevent Frozen Pipes
There are actions you should take before the cold weather as preventative measures. These include:
- Drain water from the water supply lines and swimming pool following the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Make sure to drain outside hose bibs. Keep outside valves open so any remaining water in the pipe can expand without breaking the pipe.
- Remove, drain and store hoses used outdoors.
- Look for places around and in your home where water supply lines are located in unheated and under insulated areas. Your crawl space, attic, basement and under cabinets are usually your most vulnerable areas. In these areas, consider adding insulation like a “pipe sleeve” or installing something like UL-listed heat tape. You could even use newspaper in a temporary situation to help keep pipes from freezing.
- Keep garage doors closed during cold weather if there are water supply lines in the garage.
- Open cabinet doors so warm air can circulate around the pipes. Safety tip – make sure to keep harmful cleaning products and chemicals away from kids and pets.
- In super cold weather conditions, let water slowly drip from the faucets of those lines exposed to the weather conditions.
- If leaving your home for an extended period, keep the temperature on the thermostat to no lower than 55°F. Even trickling amounts of water continuously running through the pipes can keep them from freezing.
- Install a water leak alarm to notify you in case of a leak.
How to Thaw Frozen Pipes
OK. So you’ve done everything you can to prevent frozen pipes and yet they froze anyway. Here’s what you can do to help thaw them out:
- Open the faucets and leave them open. The water will need a place to escape as it begins to melt and flow through frozen areas. Leaving the faucet open removes the pressure on the pipe and makes it less likely to break.
- Apply heat to the section of the pipe that is frozen. NEVER use an open flame as it poses a fire hazard. Use an electric heating pad, electric hair dryer, a safe portable space heater or use very hot towels that you wrap around the pipe.
If you can’t locate the frozen area, or can’t quickly get the ice to melt, call a licensed professional immediately. It’s better and cheaper to call a pro than to have your water pipes break.