5 Critical Tips to Prevent Frozen Pipes and Burst Plumbing
When temperatures threaten to head below freezing, it’s time to take steps to protect your home from the damage that can be caused by frozen and burst pipes. The cost of repairing water damage caused by a burst pipe can run into the thousands of dollars, so you’ll want to take action now rather than later to prevent such damage.
Let’s talk about several steps that homeowners can take to prevent frozen plumbing so you can apply all the ideas that matter for your individual situation.
1. “Drip” Faucets That Connect to Vulnerable Pipes
People often ask us if allowing faucets to drip in cold weather actually works to prevent frozen pipes, and the answer is “yes.”
There are two reasons for this.
First, moving water has a lower freezing temperature than standing water, so allowing a small amount of water movement by letting faucets drip slowly will offer a measure of safety as long as the outside temperatures aren’t too cold.
Second, as water freezes it expands (this is what actually breaks frozen pipes), and by opening your faucet a bit, you allow a little room for that pressure to release rather than locking it all inside the pipe.
Which Faucets Should You Open to Drip?
A common recommendation is to open the tap farthest from where the main water supply enters the house.
While this is a good starting point, we would recommend dripping any faucet that is connected to a pipe that you know is vulnerable to freezing temperatures. Simply opening the farthest tap will not ensure that pipes that are directly exposed to colder temperatures will benefit from moving water and pressure relief.
Should You Drip Both Hot and Cold Water?
Absolutely. Hot water and cold water enter your faucets through two different pipes, and both of those pipes need to be open slightly to allow water and pressure to release through them. If you have separate handles for hot and cold, open each one slightly at vulnerable faucets. If you have a single-handle control, set it to run warm water (setting it to the center is probably fine) so that water is being pulled from both pipes.
2. Open Cabinets Or Other Access Panels to Allow Warm Air In
This is particularly important for pipes that run along exterior walls. Make sure the warm air you are using to heat your house is able to reach (as best as possible) your plumbing that is normally hidden from view.
If you have children or pets, be extra sure that there are no dangerous fluids or other items within easy reach when you open doors and other access.
3. Remove All Outdoor Hoses From Outdoor Spigots
The number one cause of calls we get for burst pipes is hoses being left hooked up to outdoor spigots.
If a hose is left full of water from the last time you washed your car or watered your plants, it is preventing water from draining from your spigot. Even if you turned off water to the spigot inside the house, if it is unable to drain it can freeze both the spigot head and the pipe that feeds it inside the house.
“Frostproof” Spigot Fixtures Are Still Vulnerable
If you leave a hose full of water connected to a “frostproof” spigot, it entirely negates what makes it frostproof.
Frostproof fixtures work by closing off the flow of water deep inside the wall of a building instead of at the tap head, which allows any “standing” water to drain automatically and ensures that there is no water in the fixture to freeze. If you leave a hose hooked up, however, that water cannot drain, and your spigot and the pipe inside the wall are just as vulnerable as any standard fixture.
4. Close Shutoff Valves to Outdoor Fixtures
If your home has shutoff valves for your outdoor fixtures, but sure to close them, and again make sure that the fixture has been opened outside to let all the water drain out.
5. Use a Space Heater or Heated Pipe Wrap – Safely!
If you still have pipes that you know are vulnerable, consider using a space heater and/or heated pipe wrap to supplement the previous steps. But don’t take any unnecessary risks. Never place a space heater in an area too small for its design, and always use any electrical pipe wrap according to the manufacturer’s instructions.