How to Keep Pipes From Freezing (and What to Do if They Already Have)
Follow these tips to protect your pipes, and you’ll thank yourself later.
As temperatures have dropped terrifyingly low across the country recently—and were often coupled with power outages—homeowners and landlords have turned their attention to preventing cold-weather home disasters, including frozen pipes. When the temperature outside drops below freezing, pipes that aren't properly heated or insulated run the risk of freezing and cracking due to a buildup of pressure, which can result in flooding and even structural damage. To help keep your home safe this winter, we reached out to the pipe pros at Roto-Rooter for their advice on protecting plumbing during the chilly weeks ahead.
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How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing
Disconnect Outside Water Hoses
"If left connected, water in the hoses will freeze and expand, causing outside faucets and connecting pipes inside your home to freeze and break," warn the experts at Roto-Rooter. You should disconnect any outdoor hoses, and use a faucet cover from the home improvement store to keep outside faucets from freezing.
Let the Water Run Overnight
It may sound wasteful, but leaving a gentle trickle of hot and cold water running from a sink or bathtub faucet can prevent pipes from bursting on the coldest nights. Roto-Rooter recommends this method especially for sinks or tubs with water supply pipes that run along outside walls, as they are exposed to the coldest temperatures. Just make sure the drain is open so the sink doesn't overflow and cause the flood you'd like to prevent!
Note: In some emergency situations, if local water supplies are low and need to be conserved, you can turn off your water at the main shutoff and drain your pipes instead to reduce the risk of pipe damage.
Open Under-Sink Cabinets
If your kitchen sink is located along an outside wall, opening the door to the cabinet below the sink can help circulate warm air around the pipes below.
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Insulate Exposed Pipes
Wrap exposed pipes in unheated areas, like your basement or crawl space, with pipe insulation from the hardware store. For a bit more of an investment, you can install an electric heat cable kit to water pipes, such as this one from the Home Depot, which protects pipes down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Just be careful not to attach the heated cable to any flammable materials.
Don’t Turn Off Your Heat
It may sound obvious, but letting the heat in your home dip too low can cause pipes to freeze. Even when you're leaving for vacation, keep the furnace turned on and set the thermostat no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit, the experts suggest.
What To Do If Your Pipes Freeze
Shut Off the Water Main
To reduce pressure and minimize the risk of flooding after a pipe freezes, shut off the water main and turn on indoor faucets. This will lower the risk of a pipe bursting, and will mitigate the flooding if one does.
Thaw the Pipe
If the frozen pipe is exposed and visible, you can try thawing it with a hair dryer. (Careful: don't use an open flame.) Moving a space heater into the area can also help you defrost it more quickly.
Look for Leaks
Examine exposed pipes for leaks so you can catch them before they turn into a catastrophe. "Even with the water main turned off, there will be enough pressure to reveal leaks once the pipe has thawed," explain the experts at Roto-Rooter.
If there's open area around frozen pipes, installing a leak sensor could help you keep tabs on it—and find a problem fast.
Call a Pro
If you can't get the pipe to thaw yourself, call a professional plumber who can bring pipe-thawing equipment. Even if you're lucky and the pipe doesn't burst, a professional should examine any pipes that experienced a hard freeze to check for stretching and fatigue and make sure they don't need to be replaced.