As the temperature drops, it's time to make changes around the house to get everything in order for the cold season ahead. One of the most important things to do is be aware of issues that can lead to pipes freezing and take steps to help prevent that from happening. If pipes do freeze, the pressure can cause them to burst, requiring action to repair them quickly, and potentially causing additional water damage.
Preparing your home for winter ahead of time can help protect your home and reduce your risk of needing to make costly repairs.
It pays to prepare before the cold temperature leaves a trail of problems in your home. These steps should help keep the worst of winter at bay.
Seal Your Home
Inspecting your home for any holes, cracks, or gaps is the first course of action in preparing for winter. Not only is this necessary in helping to prevent freezing pipes, but your family members will thank you for the foresight as well. Drafts can give you the chills so sealing those holes and fixing those sill plates should set you up nicely to enjoy the warmth of your home even with the unforgiving weather outside.
You may also have to give particular attention to your crawl space. To reduce the coldness surrounding your pipes, you may have to seal off the vents leading to the crawlspace temporarily using duct tapes and foam.
Drain, Drain, Drain
Before temperature drops to freezing level, drain your sprinkler system, swimming pool, and outdoor hose bibs as supply lines to these are most at risk of freezing during a cold spell. Some people opt to put an antifreeze agent in their outdoor supply lines but this additive can be harmful to humans and pets as well as the environment. Besides, you won’t be using your outdoor hoses come wintertime so it’s better to just drain, remove, and store them.
In addition, don’t forget to shut off the indoor valve that controls your outdoor water supply. An outdoor valve is best kept open so that if any remaining water in the pipe freezes, it can expand without causing damage to the pipe.
Work on Insulating the Pipes
Investing in pipe insulation is way cheaper than footing the bill of untimely house repair due to water damage. You can choose from a wide variety of pipe insulation material, which includes polyethylene, fiberglass, or foam.
Pay more attention to pipes in unheated spaces like the basement, garage, attic, and those running through cabinets. When you’re pressed for time, you can use wadded up paper or duct tape to insulate your pipe for the time being. However, you need to replace these with proper insulating material as they can’t prevent the pipe from freezing with a prolonged sub-zero temperature.
Consider the Heating Tape Your New Buddy
Alternatively, for extra protection for your water supply in the dead of winter, installing a heating tape is your best option. You can choose from two types of heating tapes—manual and self-monitoring.
Manual ones are those types that you need to plug in whenever you think that the water is in danger of freezing. Self-monitoring heating tapes are set-and-forget types as they are equipped with sensors so they can turn on and off by themselves depending on the temperature in the pipe. If you're constantly out of the house, a self-monitoring heat tape is the better option.
While the weather is doing its worst outside, you can still do your best and prevent the pipe from causing any trouble. Here are some tips.
Let it Drip
Running water is the prevention, and probably a good antidote for mildly frozen water inside the pipe. This is because running water has kinetic energy making it less prone to freezing compared to standing water.
When it gets too cold, it’s best to inspect your piping and identify faucets that are supplied from exposed pipes and leave those faucets open so that water drips continuously. This will create friction and produce heat energy to relieve the coldness inside the pipe.
Close the Garage
Generally, the garage is a cold space. Factor in the plummeting temperature, lack of heating, and draft air coming in from outside, the pipes going through the garage are at risk of freezing. To combat this, keep the garage door closed at all times. And if you really have to open the door, waste no time in closing it back again.
Open Unheated Spaces
Once in a while, open the doors of your bathroom, cabinets under the sink, and other unheated spaces in your home. This allows warm air to circulate, keep the temperature up, and prevent ice blockages inside the pipe. Do this especially at night. But be careful to remove toxic cleaning agents in the cabinets under your sink when you open the door, and store them someplace safe if you have pets and children around.
Keep the Temperature Consistent
Set your thermostat consistently to maintain the same indoor temperature whether it’s daytime or nighttime. Some people want to skimp on the electric bill that they lower down the thermostat during the night. This practice is great—but only if you don’t have bursting pipes to contend with, which will ultimately cost you way more. So don’t risk it and just take on the increased heating bill for just a couple of months.
Leave the Heat On When You’re Away
Whether you’re away for a couple of hours or you’re going on a long vacation, make sure that the indoor temperature doesn’t get any lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Set your thermostat accordingly and leave your heating on even when no one’s home if you don’t like any nasty surprise when you get back.
What To Do When the Pipe is Frozen Already?
When you turn on the faucet and water barely trickles out, there’s a good chance that the pipe is starting to freeze already. But if you’re still seeing a flow of water here’s what you need to do:
- Leave the faucet open to keep the water running. Running water will help thaw the ice inside the pipe.
- Inspect the pipes and try to pinpoint the segment of the pipe that needs immediate attention. Apply heat in this area using a hairdryer, space heater, heating tape, or hot water-soaked towels. Do not use any device with open flames to apply heat to the pipe.
- Check out all the other faucets in your house. When you’re having a water pressure problem due to frozen pipes in one area, there’s a good chance other pipes may also be affected.
- Keep applying heat to the affected pipes until water pressure goes back to normal.
- If you’re having a problem identifying the affected pipe, or if the frozen pipe is not accessible, or water pressure isn’t restored even when you kept applying heat, call a plumber immediately.
A bitter cold snap is the last thing you’d want this coming winter. But even with the clearest forecast, it’s best to always be prepared and have equipment and materials readily available. An ounce of prevention, after all, is worth a pound worth of repairs in this case.