Winter is here, but it’s not in full swing yet. When the temperatures regularly go down to freezing you’ll want to burrow under your best blankets and live on hot chocolate – but first, you need to prepare your house. With freezing temperatures come freezing pipes, and they can do a lot of damage – messy, expensive damage – if you don’t work to prevent it.
What happens when a pipe freezes or bursts:
Elementary school science classes teach us that when water freezes, it expands. That’s why we can’t put a glass of water in the freezer – the ice would expand outwards and cause the glass to shatter. It’s not only fragile material like glass that is affected. The extreme pressure of the expanding water can affect metal or plastic pipes just as easily.
The pipes that are most susceptible to bursting are those that are most often subjected to the cold of the outdoors: sprinkler lines, pool supply lines, outdoor hose bibs. Indoor pipes are also in danger if they are placed in rooms that aren’t usually heated like the garage, basement, attic, or in the crawl space.
Taking care of your pipes starts before the weather begins to regularly reach freezing temperatures. If you think you’ve already taken care if your pipes and water supply lines, use this checklist to make sure:
- Drain the water from your swimming pool and sprinkler supply lines. DO NOT USE ANTIFREEZE – it only damages the environment, your landscaping, and it’s hazardous to humans and animals if they come into contact with it.
- Make a note of where the exposed pipes in your house are. Both the hot and cold water pipes in any unheated rooms should be insulated (the aforementioned basement, attic, etc). For insulation you have a few options: newspaper can be helpful, but you may be better off with heat tape or a pipe sleeve.
- Know which areas of the house are exposed to cold drafts and make sure any surrounding pipes are well insulated. Make sure that any windows near exposed pipes are kept shut. You can even weather seal your windows to keep the warmth inside.
- If exposed pipes serve your faucet, when the temperature drops feel free to let the cold water drip. The slowly running water will be harder to freeze.
- Keep your house temperature around 68 degrees, and leave your heating on at night without lowering it. If you leave the house for a prolonged period of time, make sure the temperature is set to 55 degrees or higher. Worrying about your heating bill won’t help when it comes to saving your pipes, but if it helps you can buy a space heater for any rooms the heating doesn’t reach.
If the worst should happen:
If a pipe freezes, you can thaw it. If it’s the kitchen sink, you can just use a hair dryer to heat up the pipes – as long as you’re careful to keep the electric dryer away from the water. Make sure you turn the faucet on so the water can begin running as it melts, and start with the sections closest to the faucet. For pipes that won’t be as easy to reach, soak towels in water heated on the stove and then wrap them around the pipes.
If a pipe actually bursts, you will have to turn off your water immediately. There won’t be much you can do at that point except to call a plumber, so make sure you have the number of a good plumber handy. Your friends or neighbors can probably recommend someone who can tackle frozen pipes.