It’s not uncommon for pipes to freeze during the winter months, especially in homes where plumbing is installed against an exterior wall with inadequate insulation in place, in areas of the home that are unheated, and of course where pipes are located outside of the home. Frozen pipes can be a serious headache for homeowners who risk damage caused by the expansion and intense pressure that takes place within the pipe when the water freezes, which can result in the pipes cracking or bursting.
Cracks can lead to water leaks, mold, structural damage and flooding over time.
If you have pipes that are vulnerable to freezing, take preventative measures to avoid serious damage to your home’s interior. Shutting off water to the outside of the home is often recommended, although not very convenient. If you decide you need to keep the water supply turned on, periodically flush water through the pipes to prevent them from freezing. Drain and disconnect your outdoor water hoses too.
For a quick fix when pipes are already frozen, eyeball the insulation situation for both hot and cold water pipes. Outdoor faucets should be fitted with insulated pipe sleeves available at most hardware stores. Insulated pipe sleeves combined with heat tape are especially useful for preventing frozen outdoor water lines in cold temperatures.
Any time the temperature drops below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s advisable to leave your sink and bathtub faucets open overnight when you’re dealing with plumbing lines that run along an outside wall. This allows hot and cold water to drain before it can freeze inside the pipes.
If you leave your home in the winter for an extended period of time, set the thermostat to 55 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to ensure the home’s interior remains above freezing temperatures, no matter how cold it gets outside. In addition, shut off the home’s main water supply and drain the entire pipe system by opening all the faucets and flushing all the toilets before you leave.
If any water supply lines are located in the garage, keep your garage doors closed during the winter months.
Thawing frozen pipes
If the frozen pipes are located inside your home, thawing them is fairly easy. Use a Hair dryer or electric heating pad to speed up the process, but be careful not to use them near standing water to avoid electrocution. You can also wrap frozen pipes with towels soaked in hot water, the recommended method if there is interior flooding.
Another approach is to turn on the faucet and search for cold sections of pipe, especially those closest to the faucets. Remember, the frozen sections of pipe will be located against exterior walls. Continue treating the frozen pipe with the hot towels, hair dryer or heating pad until water flows through and water pressure is restored.
When warm weather returns, address the entire home’s exterior wall insulation situation, and if it’s inadequate replace it. Do your homework to determine what type of insulation is going to offer you the most energy efficiency and best protect your home’s water pipes from frigid temperatures next winter and beyond.