Winter house after snow storm

Brrr! The winter months are moving in full force and it’s time to prepare your home for freezing (and in some cases, below-freezing) weather conditions. The top task you should add to your to-do list this winter is checking the condition of your pipes.

When poorly insulated or exposed to the cold winter weather, your pipes could become frozen and, if left untreated, could burst and cause you more damage than you’ll want to pay around the holiday season.

Get ahead of freezing weather conditions by properly insulating and preparing your pipes for the winter season, using our tips below as a reference. But first, let’s learn what happens to pipes when they freeze and how you should handle a frozen or burst pipe in your home.

What Happens When Your Pipes Freeze

When the water in poorly insulated pipes is exposed to freezing weather conditions (32 degrees Fahrenheit and below) the water will freeze and expand, causing pressure to build in whatever is containing it. Even the strongest materials, like metal pipes, can buckle, break and burst at the joints or crack under extreme pressure.

This poses a problem, as pipes that are exposed to the extreme cold (like outdoor hoses, swimming pool supply lines and sprinkler systems) or unheated areas with poor insulation in your home (like a basement, garage, or kitchen and bathroom cabinets) can cause water damage to the respective areas when they burst.

As a result, you’ll be paying more than just the average $5,000 in repair costs for your burst pipes; you’ll also need to consider the cost to replace drywall or kitchen cabinets, should the water affect other areas of your home. Not to mention, if water enters your home you’re also at risk of mold.

If you notice a faucet is not running when you turn it on or your toilet is not refilling after a flush, these can be telltale signs that your pipes are frozen. Let’s talk first about how to thaw frozen pipes and then get into how to prevent your pipes from freezing in the future.

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

If you turn on your faucet and notice that only a small trickle of water is coming out, or no water is coming out at all, the water in your pipes is most likely frozen.

The American Red Cross suggests thawing your pipes by first keeping your faucet turned on. This relieves the pressure built up between the blockage of frozen water and the faucet so that when you thaw the water, it can slowly move through the pipe and out the faucet instead of building up in the pipe and bursting from the sudden release of pressure.

If you have access to the section of the pipe that is frozen, thaw the frozen water by applying heat to the pipe using one of the following preferred Red Cross methods:

  • Wrap the pipe with an electric heating pad
  • Apply heat to the pipe using an electric hair dryer or space heater
  • Wrap the pipe with towels soaked in hot water

The Red Cross advises against using a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame devices.

As you begin to thaw the frozen pipe, and the water starts to melt, the water will begin to flow through the frozen area and help melt the ice in the pipe. Keep applying heat to the pipe until the faucet is back to full water pressure.

If your water still hasn’t thawed, or you don’t have access to the frozen pipe, you might need to call a licensed plumber. Make sure you check additional areas in your home, as one frozen pipe could be an indicator of additional frozen pipes.

What to Do If a Frozen Pipe Bursts in Your Home

Let’s say you don’t catch the frozen pipe in time and you’re now dealing with a burst pipe in your home. Whether it’s a small leak or a full-on flood, the first thing you should do is call a licensed plumber.

However, while you’re waiting for the plumber to arrive, there are a few things you can do to minimize the amount of water damage to your home.

First, shut off your home’s main water valve and turn off the electricity in your home. Turning off your water will prevent any further water from entering your home, while cutting your electricity will prevent shock, as water is a conductor when exposed to an electric short or loose wire.

When you confirm that both the water and electricity are turned off, start removing as much water as you can with a mop, sponge, towel or wet vacuum to prevent mold and mildew.

Depending on how long the burst was left unattended, you might also need to call a water damage professional to replace carpeting, flooring, drywall and ceilings.

The good news is that most insurance agencies will cover a burst pipe or water damage resulting from a burst pipe. Check your homeowners insurance policy today to see if this is included in your coverage. The worst thing would be to wait until you have to make a claim to see if it’s covered.

Tips to Keep Your Pipes from Freezing this Winter

Preventing your pipes from freezing in the winter comes down to proper insulation. With thousands of dollars in damage potentially on the line, you might want to spend time and money to add insulation to your pipes before temperatures drop – especially if you live in an older home, or a home located in traditionally warmer climates, as pipes won’t be as insulated in climates that aren’t accustomed to cold.

Pipe insulation, on average, costs 50 cents per linear foot (LF) and is fairly easy to install yourself. So for at-risk areas, such as interior spaces that don’t have access to heat, like basements, attics and garages, installing insulation can help keep your home dry. If you’d rather not DIY your insulation, you can call a professional for an estimate on your home.

Additionally, Consumer Reports recommends the following measures be taken when the temperature drops below freezing:

Set Your Thermostat to 55 Degrees Fahrenheit

Keeping your thermostat at a consistent temperature can help prevent your pipes from freezing. Consumer Reports recommends at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Additionally, keep your heat on even if you plan on being away from home for long periods of time during the winter. This will keep your pipes warm and prevent the water inside from freezing and bursting while you’re away.

Let Your Faucet Drip

It might seem odd to leave your faucet dripping, but allowing the faucet to be open actually releases pressure built up between the blockage and the faucet, should the pipes freeze.

Don’t worry – Consumer Reports only suggests doing this if the weather drops below freezing, so you don’t have to leave your faucet dripping all winter long.

Keep the Garage Door Closed

Your garage is already prone to freezing temperatures, just by the nature of its location and construction – a concrete or metal structure is only going to be so warm.

However, by keeping your garage door closed, you’re reducing the amount of cold air that enters your garage and any exterior walls that could host pipes.

Keep Interior Doors Open

Since kitchen and bathroom cabinets often contain pipes that connect to a faucet or toilet, keeping the doors open can expose the plumbing inside to warm air that’s already circulating through your home.

Additionally, doors to your bedroom, bathroom and other closed-off areas of your home should be kept open to allow the heat in your home to circulate freely from room to room.

Address Any Cracks or Holes in Your Home

Make sure you address any gaps or holes that could potentially let in cold air where pipes run through the walls or floors of your home. You can use caulk or spray foam to seal any gaps.

The likelihood of your pipes freezing this winter depends on the temperature, the age of your house and how well insulated your pipes are. While you can’t control the weather or the age of your home, you can get ahead of the winter weather by properly insulating your pipes and following the above tips to keep your pipes from freezing.

Do you have any tips for preventing pipes from freezing in the winter? Let us know in the comments below!

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