After the last weekend, I found myself chatting with plumber friends and homeowners alike who spent their fair share of time trying to fix one of the casualties of arctic winter weather. I am talking about frozen pipes.
Frozen pipes aren’t just a pain to deal with, they can be expensive to replace. When the temperature drops, uninsulated or exposed pipes are can’t deal with the weather change, and the water in them freezes, which in the worst-case scenario will cause them to expand and the pipes to burst. This problem is particularly common in older homes where the pipes are more open to the elements, and they don’t have any insulation to protect them. Even though we’ve seen a relatively mild winter, a winter vortex like the one we had last weekend can throw us for a loop, especially if we’re unprepared. So if the weatherman forecasts another bout of icy temperatures, it’s worth being ready. Here are a few simple tips to protect your pipes and give yourself some peace of mind until spring.
- Make sure all your outside faucets are covered and disconnect any garden hoses.
- Try to keep your house temperature at 68 degrees or higher.
- Allow warm air to circulate in the places you have pipes by keeping cabinets and doors open when it is really cold.
- Wrap any exposed pipes in reach with pipe insulation, which is available at your local hardware store.
- Close windows and air vents near pipes as cold temperatures and drafts will enable them to freeze more easily.
- Insulate and air seal any open crawl spaces that can get drafty and cold.
- If your basement temperature fluctuates with the outdoor weather, consider heating it slightly to protect the pipes that run through it.
- If you plan on being away from home for any extended period of time, consider turning your water off.
- If you have one pipe or area that’s consistently giving you problems, consider buying a heating cable, which can be attached or wrapped around the pipe with electrical tape. You can find a cable at your local hardware store or Home Depot, which will run you around $25 for a six-footer.
If you have a pipe that’s already frozen, use a hair dryer to heat the pipe back up and thaw the ice. Never use a hair dryer near standing water. Another option is to heat some water on the stove and soak towels in it. Wrap the towels around the pipes to regulate the temperature and thaw the ice.
If your pipe has burst, it’s time to call the plumber. But first, make sure you turn off your water at the main valve to avoid further damage. It might also be handy to keep a pipe patch kit on hand in the event your plumber is busy tending to pipes all over town and can’t get to you right away. It’s a temporary fix but will keep you in the clear until you can get some permanent help.