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How to Prevent & Deal With Frozen Pipes in Your Home

The weather can be unpredictable, but preventing your pipes from freezing is easier than you think.

Yvonne Harbison
Yvonne Harbison

Frozen pipes can be a real hassle, as they pose a very real threat to the overall integrity of your home and can result in costly damage. They don’t just affect the water lines—they can potentially affect the entire home. Think about it: your home water pipes run throughout the entirety of your home and contain hundreds of gallons of water at any given time. A single crack can leak hundreds of gallons of water a day, but a frozen pipe burst can leak thousands. If you want to prevent flooding, severe structural damage, and mold, it’s a good idea to learn how to prevent and thaw frozen pipes.

Frozen pipes can occur anywhere the temperatures reach freezing or below. Even if you live in an area with usually mild climates, you may want to take note of the following tips, as doing so could save you a huge headache and thousands of dollars.  

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

Winter isn’t the only time that you should prep your pipes. You should take measures to prevent frozen pipes right before winter hits, before you leave town, and when mercury levels drop.

Before Winter Hits

If you live in an area where winters are harsh, you need to take extra precautions to protect your pipes. Some ways that you can prep your pipes for the bitter cold include the following:   

  • Wrap your pipes with heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables to control the temperature of the water in your pipes. When using these materials, follow the instructions on the packaging to the letter and ensure you don’t expose the pipes unnecessarily.
  • Insulate the pipes in your home’s attic and crawl spaces. Just because they are located in “unused” areas of the home does not mean that the pipes are unused. Exposed pipes pose the greatest threat, so be sure to insulate them extra well.
  • Disconnect any garden hoses and seal off exterior water valves. These entrances are the perfect gateway for frost and bitter winds.
  • Seal off leaks in your home that allow cold air to enter, especially leaks that are located near pipelines. Additionally, check for leaks around electrical wiring, heating ducts and dryer vents.

Before You Leave Town

Millions of people own both a year-round home and a vacation home, such as a timeshare, or a “summer home” and a “winter home.” Then there are people who just go on extended vacations throughout the year, whether to visit family or simply to get away. If you regularly leave any of your homes for extended periods of time, it is important that you know how to thaw and prevent frozen pipes. To prevent your pipes from freezing while you’re out of town, consider doing the following:

  • Set your thermostat before you leave to a nice, refreshing 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature will ensure that your home—and your walls—stay warm enough to prevent freezing even if outside temperatures plummet.
  • Shut off your drain and water system. Doing so will prevent water flow through your pipes entirely, a surefire way to avoid frozen pipes.
  • Ask a friend or neighbor to keep an eye on your home. If the temperatures dip, ask them to stop by to make sure the thermostat kicked in like it was supposed to.

When Mercury Levels Drop

Even if you’ve taken the right measures to prevent your pipes from freezing, extreme weather could still wreak havoc on your home and your pipes. Some steps to take to protect your home if mercury levels drop include:

  • Keep your thermostat at a consistent temperature all day long. Too many homeowners turn their thermostat off during the day to save money, but doing so could do more harm than good. Pipes are similar to glass in that if they go from almost freezing to warm very suddenly, the could go into shock and crack. To prevent this, keep your thermostat at 55 degrees while you’re out of the house, and raise it only slightly when you’re home.
  • Allow water to trickle through the pipes while you’re sleeping, as flowing water could be all it takes to prevent your pipes from freezing. Though this may raise your water bill a tad, the difference in your bill is nothing compared to what you might owe if your pipes burst.
  • Open your cabinet doors below your sinks to allow warm air to reach uninsulated pipes beneath the sink and appliances.

How to Tell if Your Pipes Are Frozen

If you’re not sure whether or not your pipes are frozen, look for the following signs:

  • Frost: If there is frost on your pipes, they are likely frozen.
  • Lack of Water: In harsh winter temperatures, if water doesn’t come out of the faucet when you turn it on, your pipes are possibly frozen.
  • A Funny Smell: If you notice a strange smell emanating from your drains, there is likely a block in your pipes, which could be caused by a partially frozen mid-section.

What to Do When Your Pipes Are Frozen

If your pipes do freeze, don’t panic. Yes, frozen pipes are bad, but they’re only bad when they’re allowed to burst. To keep your pipes from exploding, heed the following advice:

  • Turn on your faucets to see if any water comes out. If there is a trickle, you may be good, and all you have to do is wait until that trickle warms your pipes and eventually turns into a full-blown stream. If nothing comes out, it’s time to call a plumber.
  • Refrain from taking an open flame to your pipes, as doing so could cause a house fire or, worse yet, an explosion.
  • Try thawing your pipes with a blow dryer instead. Start by warming the pipes as close to the faucets as possible and work your way towards the center, where pipes are likely to be the coldest.
  • If your pipes have already ruptured, turn off the main water valve, turn faucets on and start making calls. In addition to calling a plumber, you may need to call a water damage remediation professional.

Frozen pipes mean extra work and maintenance, but if you follow the above advice for how to thaw and prevent frozen pipes, it would be worth it if the damage is minimized and inexpensive.

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