For the quarter-million families who have their homes ruined and their lives disrupted each winter because of frozen water pipes, frigid nights can very quickly turn to ongoing, inconvenient, extremely expensive ordeals.
Pipes freeze for a combination of three central reasons: quick drops in temperature, poor insulation, and thermostats set too low. Both plastic and copper pipes can burst when they freeze, and recovering from frozen pipes is not as simple as calling a plumber. A 1/8-inch crack in a pipe can spew up to 250 gallons of water a day, causing flooding, serious structural damage and the immediate potential for mold.
In the United States, frozen pipes cause a huge amount of damage each year; unlike natural disasters, this disaster is largely preventable. You can help save yourself the mess, money and aggravation frozen pipes cause by taking these preventative steps:
Insulate pipes in your home’s crawl spaces and attic. Exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing. Remember: The more insulation you use, the better protected your pipes will be.
Heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables can be used to wrap pipes. Be sure to use products approved by an independent testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories Inc., and only for the use intended (exterior or interior). Closely follow all manufacturers’ installation and operation instructions.
Seal leaks that allow cold air inside near where pipes are located. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents, and pipes, and use caulk or insulation to keep the cold out. With severe cold, even a tiny opening can let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze.
Before winter hits, disconnect garden hoses and, if possible, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. This reduces the chance of freezing in the short span of pipe just inside the house.
A trickle of hot and cold water might be all it takes to keep your pipes from freezing. Let warm water drip overnight, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall.
Keep your thermostat set at the same temperature during both day and night. You might be in the habit of turning down the heat when you’re asleep, but further drops in the temperature – more common overnight – could catch you off guard and freeze your pipes.
Open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to un-insulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.
What do you do if your pipes still freeze, despite your best preventative measures? First, don’t panic. Just because they are frozen, doesn’t mean they have burst. If you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out, leave the faucets turned on and call a plumber.
Keep in mind, if your water pipes have already burst, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve in the house and leave the water faucets turned on. Make sure everyone in your family knows where the water shutoff valve is and how to open and close it.
It is important that you do not use electrical appliances in areas of standing water because you could be electrocuted. Also, never try to thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame because it could cause a fire hazard. Water damage is preferable to burning down your house! You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe with the warm air from a hair dryer. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe.
Keep in mind before traveling during the winter months, set the thermostat in your house no lower than 55°F (12°C); shut off and drain the water system and ask a friend or neighbor to check your house regularly to make sure it’s warm enough to prevent freezing.
Understanding and following these important tips will help protect your water pipes during the winter. I always like to close my column by sharing this truth that I live by: The key to having a successful life begins with being a good neighbor, building relationships based on honesty and trust, working hard to make a difference for your family and community and being thankful for all the blessings along the way.
Justin Mays is a local businessman who serves neighbors in Bell County, Harlan County and Claiborne County. He may be reached at [email protected]