As the cold winter weather starts to set in, it’s time to prep your home to endure the colder temperatures. A necessary component of your home that is particularly sensitive to below-freezing temperatures is your piping. Knowing how to properly maintain it during the colder winter months can mean the difference between a happy home and an expensive plumbing disaster.
Know Where Your Exposed Pipes Lie
The pipes most susceptible to freezing are those that are in uninsulated areas of your home. This includes spaces like your garage and attic where cold air can quickly seep in. These areas should be of your utmost concern as they will be the first to freeze. It’s highly recommended that you take the time to properly insulate these exposed pipes and perform necessary maintenance steps on them during the coldest of the winter days.
Insulation can be done in a number of ways. Probably the most popular and easiest to install is the foam tubular insulation. This is typically black or grey in color and can be cut to the specific lengths of your pipe. It has a slit in the backside, which allows you to easily slip it over an exposed pipe. Some other methods of insulation include fiberglass and foam pipe wrap.
If you have an outlet within close vicinity of your exposed piping, then you may want to invest in heated cables. These are cables specifically designed to be attached to piping. They have a built-in thermostat that monitors that pipe’s temperature and will turn on its heat source when temperatures get too cold. These can be more costly to purchase and operate than traditional insulation methods.
If it’s cost-efficient, you may want to consider adding a heat source to the uninsulated area of your home to help minimize the freezing of any exposed piping. A small space heater can make a big difference in how warm your pipes remain during the coldest of the winter season.
When Temperatures Dip Below Freezing
Whenever the temperature dips below freezing, your pipes can start to freeze up. As the temperatures dip, it’s a good idea to perform some extra tasks to help keep your pipes adequately heated. First and foremost, you’ll want to open up your cabinet doors where water lines are present. This allows fresh heat to circulate through these areas and heat up your water lines.
If you have exposed piping in your garage, consider keeping your doors shut until the cold spell snaps. If you have areas of your home where there is exposed piping and no insulation, then let your faucet drip. Even this slow movement of water can go a long way in preventing your pipe from freezing up during the coldest of the winter weather.
Sealing Up Your Entire Home
A very common way that homes end up cooling down to pipe freezing temperatures is because of drafts and air leaks throughout the home. It’s imperative that you take the time to walk through your home and assess common areas for cold air to seep into your home. These include near your doors, windows, dryer vents, and so forth.
Any areas where you can feel a cold draft coming in should be properly sealed up. If the hole is big, use weatherstripping material to keep the draft out. For smaller leaks, you can use clear caulking to completely seal them up. Additionally, you’ll want to ensure that your home’s insulation level meets or exceeds the R-value standards for your region of the country. When you can keep your home free from air leaks and drafts, it goes a long way in reducing your risk of experiencing frozen pipes.
Turning Off Water Supply to Outdoor Faucets
You don’t want to have live water going to your outdoor faucets during the colder winter months, as this could lead to frozen pipes and a costly repair bill. Rather, you want to locate the shut-off valve for each outdoor faucet that you have. Turn it to the off position and then bleed the remaining water line via the bleeder valve.
It’s important to note that just shutting off the water valve to your outdoor faucets isn’t enough. If you leave water in the line, it can still freeze between the shut-off valve and the outdoor faucet. Bleeding is a crucial step in the process to remove any water in this section of piping so that it isn’t exposed to frigid outdoor temperatures.
If you use your outdoor faucets in the winter months, then you’ll need to invest in frost-free sill cocks. These winterized options have the washer, seat, and valve located about 18 inches inside of the pipe inside of your home. Additionally, they’re installed at a downward angle so that water left in the piping can easily drain every time you turn the faucet off.
Dealing With Frozen Pipes
When you turn on your faucet and you only get a trickle or nothing at all, it’s an indication that your pipe is frozen somewhere. It’s best to examine the length of the piping to identify if there are any obvious bursts. When water freezes, it actually expands. This can force your piping to expand and end up bursting. However, since the water is frozen, you won’t see water leaking out just yet.
If you notice any bursts in your pipe, you should shut your water off to that section of piping if possible. If not, then turn off your main water supply at the main water valve. Once the piping is unfrozen, you don’t want to have tons of water gushing out of the leaky area, as that could lead to even more damage to your home.
Before you attempt to unfreeze the piping, make sure that you turn on the faucet so that the water can flow out of the piping into a sink or tub. When attempting to unfreeze your piping, you need to keep in mind that your piping is sensitive to extreme heat. You never want to use a blowtorch, kerosene heater, propane heater, or any other open flame source of heat.
Instead, opt for a more controlled heating method. You can start by wrapping hot towels around the piping. Other acceptable methods for unfreezing your piping include an electric heating pad, hair dryer, and portable space heater. If you opt for the latter, make sure that the area is clear of any flammable debris.
You want to continue to heat your piping until its normal water pressure is restored. By having the faucet open, the flow of even cold water will help to unfreeze your piping. If you notice a leak anywhere in your piping during the unfreezing process, be sure to turn off your water supply and call a licensed plumber for assistance.