During winter, one of the biggest risks to your home is a burst pipe.

When temperatures drop below freezing, water turns to ice and expands. Within the pipe, an ice blockage forms between the source and the faucet. As water becomes trapped between the blockage and the closed faucet, the integrity of the pipes weakens. This can happen with any material, from plastic to steel.

If pipes burst, there can be a large amount of damage to the property. This includes the house itself and your possessions. Plus, the repair costs can be sizeable.

The risk for a burst pipe is common in hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines and irrigation systems. Within your home, the odds are greater for pipes in exterior walls that are poorly insulated or unheated parts of the house, which include your basement, crawl space and attic.

The issue of burst pipes tends to be a bigger concern in the South. Northern regions are prepared for colder temperatures, so homes tend to have plumbing in insulated parts of the house. In the South, however, pipes are at times unprotected, and many homeowners don't know how to prevent frozen pipes.

Regardless where you live, follow these steps to avoid a burst pipe:

  • Regulate your home's temperature. One of the easiest ways to prevent pipes from freezing is to ensure your heat is operating at a feasible temperature. When temperatures drop, ensure your thermostat is set to at least 55 degrees. Consider purchasing a programmable thermostat, which can help with regulating the temperature and lowering your energy costs.
  • Open cabinets under sinks. Your kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanity cabinets may not get a lot of heat. Keep the cabinets beneath sinks open to allow warm air to reach the pipes.
  • Let faucets drip. If you know certain pipes are exposed, turn on the faucets connected to them and run lukewarm water. Even if the faucets are only dripping, the flow of water can keep pipes from freezing.
  • Close windows near pipes. Although there are few reasons to open a window during winter, if you need to do so, don't open one near pipes. If you have a window in your bathroom, for instance, don't open it. Also, consider sealing your windows with caulk and shrink wrap to keep cold drafts out of your home.
  • Insulate unheated areas. For areas of your home that aren't heated, install insulation to protect your pipes. Additionally, order a property inspection if you need help determining whether insulation in other parts of your house needs to be replaced. This is another tip that can help with energy savings in addition to burst pipes.
  • Insulate the pipes. There are many products you can purchase to insulate your plumbing. These choices include sleeves that go over pipes and special tapes.
  • Store hoses and drain bibs. Detach your hose from the bib and store it for the winter. Next, drain the bib. Start by closing the interior valve. Then, open the exterior valve to drain any remaining water. Don't close the the latter valve, as leaving it open gives any water left in the bib room to expand.
  • Locate your main water valves and a plumber. For particularly harsh winters, it can be difficult to prevent pipes from freezing and eventually bursting. In these cases, you'll need to shut off the water at the main value. If a hot water pipe bursts, you'll need to close the value on your hot water heater. Once the appropriate valves are closed, contact your plumber.