PART 1 - Why Pipe Freezing is a Problem
Water has a unique property: it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. No matter the strength of a container, expanding water can cause pipes to break.
Pipes that freeze most frequently are
- those exposed to severe cold, such as outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, and water sprinkler lines.
- those that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation.
- water supply pipes in unheated interior areas, like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, and kitchen cabinets.
How to Protect Pipes from Freezing
Before the onset of cold weather, protect your pipes from freezing by following these recommendations:
- Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following the manufacturer's or installer's directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is environmentally harmful, dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.
- Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
- Add insulation to attics, basements, and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas.
- Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the garage and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated.
- Install specific products made to insulate water pipes, like a pipe sleeve, or UL-listed heat tape, heat cable, or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes; even a quarter inch of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.
- Possibly relocate exposed pipes to provide increased protection from freezing.
PART 2 - How to Prevent Frozen Pipes Last-Minute
Even if you haven’t taken time to prepare pipes for cold weather, you can still follow some last-minute steps to protect your pipes when temperatures are predicted to drop to 32° F or below:
- Close garage doors if there are water supply lines in the garage.
- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. When you do this, be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of the reach of children.
- Let cold water drip from faucets served by exposed pipes. Running water through pipes, even at a trickle, helps prevent them from freezing.
- Set the thermostat to the same temperature both during the day and night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
- If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.
How to Thaw Frozen Pipes
If you turn on a faucet in cold weather months and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Frozen pipes are likely to be those against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
Once you discern that a pipe is frozen, here’s what to do:
- Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
- Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or towels soaked in hot water and wrapped around the pipe. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open-flame devices.
- Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
- Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe is frozen, others have likely frozen, too.