How to Prevent Your Pipes from Freezing this Winter

It’s a fact. Frozen pipes lead to burst pipes. And burst pipes lead to major plumbing emergencies and expensive water damage in your home.

The good news is, a little preventative action before freezing weather arrives for the season can assure that even your “at risk” pipes keep on flowing no matter how low temperatures may go. If you do experience frozen pipes, there are also a few ways to thaw them safely.

Of course, not experiencing a pipe freeze in the first place is the ultimate goal. That’s why we’re offering a closer look at how you can easily avoid a cold-weather plumbing emergency this year.

Before winter arrives

Here in Ressler & Mateer’s home service area in southcentral PA, we’re fortunate not to experience weeks or months of sub-zero temperatures even in the dead of winter, but we still have the occasional extreme cold snap. Unfortunately, temperatures don’t have to be quite so low for pipes to freeze.

As long as temperatures remain just a bit below 32°F (water’s freezing point) for more than a few hours, your home’s plumbing system may be in danger. In fact, a study reported on by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety found that uninsulated pipes in unheated locations like attics, basements, crawl spaces, and garages, quickly begin to freeze as soon as the outdoor temperature falls to 20°F.

Add insulation wherever you can

Ideally, none of your home’s plumbing would be exposed to freezing temperatures, but water pipes sometimes need to be routed through unheated areas. Luckily, adding insulation, either to your home’s structure in these particular locations or directly to pipes, can make a big difference.

Insulating pipes can be an inexpensive DIY project, as your local hardware or home improvement store sells foam pipe sleeves that are easy to install for just about anyone. Look for the thickest insulation you can find and remember not to leave gaps between sections.

If any section of pipe isn’t accessible, or if you want to “level up” your pipe insulation, contact a plumber for assistance. Professional plumbers will have more advanced insulation solutions available and can help you determine which pipes in your home are most vulnerable to freezing.

Winterize outdoor faucets

One type of plumbing fixture that is always exposed to freezing temperatures each winter is your outdoor spigots. So convenient in the warmer months for connecting garden hoses and filling watering cans, these faucets can freeze if not properly winterized each year. To winterize your faucets, shut off the water supply to the faucet inside the house, then open the spigot outside.

If your outdoor faucet is “frost-free,” these steps are less critical, but you may still want to shut off the water supply just to be safe. You can also purchase inexpensive insulating covers to slip over faucets outside.

Not sure whether your outdoor faucets are frost-free or standard? Consult a plumber for help in identifying what you have and advice on how you can better protect these vulnerable fixtures.

Address any plumbing problems you’re having now

Are you currently experiencing low water pressure, leaky faucets, or small leaks in pipes anywhere in your home? Take action before freezing temperatures make repairs more difficult or compound the problem, resulting in a plumbing emergency. It’s true that you may even be able to address certain problems yourself, though recognizing when it’s time to call a plumber for help will also save you frustration and time.

In the midst of a cold snap

When sustained sub-freezing weather hits (usually during January and February here in the Lancaster, PA area), you may suddenly realize that you forgot to address all of your plumbing concerns earlier in the season. Don’t worry — there are few tricks you can try to keep pipes unfrozen during extremely cold weather periods.

Allow faucets to drip

It may feel wrong to open faucets and allow them to drip since it goes against all the traditional advice you hear about saving money and water. But, allowing a vulnerable tap (one that’s served by exposed piping) to run just slightly can prevent a burst pipe. While this small flow may not actually keep the pipe to the faucet from freezing, it does provide pressure relief. This trick works because excessive pressure built up between an ice blockage and a closed tap is one of the most common causes of burst pipes, as opposed to the ice itself.

Reprogram your thermostat

Do you have your thermostat set to lower the temperature in your home when you’re sleeping or no one is there in order to save money? During extreme cold weather, it’s actually better to keep your thermostat set to a consistent warm temperature instead of allowing the temperature in your home to drop at various times during the day and night. Yes, you will potentially spend a few more dollars on your heating bill, but that is a bargain compared to having a burst pipe from a freeze (especially while you’re asleep or at work during the day)! When the cold snap is over, you can always resume your normal heating routines.

If you’re planning to be away for an extended period of time (hopefully going on a tropical cruise) while the risk of a cold snap is high, be sure that your heating system remains turned on. No one may be in your home, but that’s the time you definitely do not want a pipe to burst. Set your thermostat to at 55F or above, so your heating system won’t run often and waste energy, but will keep plumbing systems safe.

The pipes froze anyway…now what?!

If you turn on a faucet and water does not flow or only trickles, you might have a frozen pipe. Leave the faucet turned on slightly, and go investigate.

  • If you discover a burst pipe, turn off all of the water to your home at the main shutoff valve to stop the flow, and call a plumber for help right away.
  • If you’ve experienced damaging flooding in a basement or other area of your home, you will also want to contact your homeowner’s insurance company, as professional remediation may be needed to dry out your space and replace damaged personal items.
  • If you don’t see a burst pipe (breathe a sigh of relief!), but can locate frozen sections, you can carefully apply heat with appliances like hair dryers or portable space heaters, though this can be hazardous and may not solve your problem. Sometimes frozen areas are not easily accessible or visible.

The best thing you can do when you suspect a frozen pipe is to call a professional plumber right away. Even if you are able to thaw out the pipes, there could be damage you can’t immediately see. Plus, a plumber can help you troubleshoot the problem to be sure it doesn’t happen again.

Are you the type of busy homeowner (like most of us today) who doesn’t have time to think about your home’s plumbing system and the regular maintenance it requires? Don’t want to be burdened with tasks like winterizing outdoor faucets and insulating pipes? A customized emergency service and maintenance program might be right for you. Call Ressler & Mateer today to discuss your needs and options.