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Keep Your Pipes From Freezing

One of the messiest and most costly homeowner repairs is fixing a burst frozen pipe. Water from a burst pipe can cause damage to carpeting, short out electrical appliances and ruin furniture. Water expands as it freezes and puts significant pressure on the metal or plastic pipes that hold it. Pipes that are exposed to extreme cold can burst when water expands; these include outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines and water supply pipes in basements, attics and garages. Pipes that run along exterior walls in the home with minimal insulation also tend to freeze more easily. 

Use the following recommendations to prevent frozen pipes in your home:

  • Insulate pipes in unheated interior areas, such as crawl spaces and attics.
  • Wrap pipes in heat tape or thermostatically-controlled heat cables.
  • Open cabinet doors to expose pipes to warm air.
  • Seal any leaks with caulk or insulation.
  • Disconnect outdoor items such as hoses and faucets.
  • Shut off these items completely using an indoor valve and allow the excess water to drain out.
  • Trickle a little water out of your faucets periodically to keep water moving within the pipes.
  • Keep your garage door closed if there is a water supply in there.
  • Keep your thermostat set at the same temperature during the day and night.
  • Do not set your thermostat lower than 55° F when going on vacation. Ask someone to periodically check the temperature in your home while you are away.

If you turn on a faucet and no water or only a trickle comes out, your pipes may be frozen. Turn off the main water valve and keep the faucet on. Apply heat to the pipe by using an electric heating pad, hair dryer or portable space heater, or by wrapping the pipe in towels soaked in hot water. Never try to thaw a frozen pipe with an open flame as it my damage the pipe, or even start a fire. You should apply heat until you regain water pressure. If this does not solve the problem, contact a licensed plumber to inspect your pipes.

Luckily, there are also several products on the market that offer some security against these nightmares:

  • Spray Foam – Foam is sprayed into the wall to fill cavities around pipes when the temperature cools.
    • Foam insulates walls and blocks airflow.
    • Make sure you also caulk exterior joints on the outside wall near pipes.
  • Heat Tape – The tape plugs into a grounded outlet and is then spiral wrapped around pipes.
    • Tapes have built-in thermostats that automatically call for power when the temperature drops near freezing.
    • When the temperature rises, the power cuts off. 
  • In-pipe Heating Elements – Devices are placed in water and sewer pipes and conduct heat directly into the pipe as needed.
  • Valve Units – Products are screwed onto faucets (usually outside) and prohibit water from going through when temperatures are too low.
    • The valve sensor detects low and high temperatures.
    • When the low temperature is detected, the sensor opens a micro-valve to produce heat.
    • As the temperature rises, the valve closes.