How to Prevent Frozen Pipes in Cold Weather

And how to fix them if they do freeze.

When winter temperatures drop below freezing across the country—often coupled with power outages—homeowners and landlords should focus their attention on preventing cold-weather home disasters. For example, winter is the season when house fires are most common, so you need to take measures to keep your home safe.

Another possible issue? Frozen pipes. 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. Sadly, this type of issue can fall under the category of things homeowners insurance doesn't cover.

To help you prevent such issues, we reached out to the pipe pros at Roto-Rooter for advice on protecting plumbing during the chilly weeks and what to do if they freeze. Head off disaster with these preventative measures.

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," warned the experts at Roto-Rooter. Disconnect all outdoor hoses, and use a faucet cover ($4.50, homedepot.com) to keep outside faucets from freezing.

Let the Water Run Overnight

It sounds 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, especially for sinks or tubs with water supply pipes that run along outside walls, which get exposed to the lowest temperatures. Make sure the drain is open, so the sink doesn't overflow, causing the flood you tried to prevent.

To reduce the risk of pipe damage in emergencies, like if local water supplies are low and need to be conserved, you may be able to turn off your water at the main shutoff and drain your pipes instead.

Don't Turn Off the Heat

Obvious, right? But letting your home's temperature dip too low can cause pipes to freeze. Even if you're away on vacation, experts suggest you keep the furnace turned on with the thermostat set no lower than 55 F.

What to Do if Pipes Freeze

Too late for preventative measures? You still have options.

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 lowers the risk of a pipe bursting and mitigates flooding if one does.

Thaw the Pipe

If the frozen pipe is exposed and visible, try thawing it with a hair dryer. (Careful: Don't use an open flame.) Moving a space heater into the area can also help to defrost it 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 an open area around frozen pipes, install a leak sensor ($80, homedepot.com) to help you keep tabs on it—and find a problem fast.

Call a Pro

If you can't get the pipe to thaw, call a professional plumber who'll bring pipe-thawing equipment. Even if you're lucky and the pipe doesn't burst, a professional can examine pipes that experienced a hard freeze. They'll check for stretching and fatigue and determine if they need replacement.

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