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How To Prevent Pipes From Freezing

How To Prevent Pipes From Freezing

As the colder seasons bring delightful fall foliage, pumpkin spice treats, and snow days, it’s crucial to remember one less pleasant aspect: the risk of frozen pipes. Frozen pipes rank among the top causes of property damage in winter, often leading to costly repairs and making homes uninhabitable. Fortunately, understanding how to prevent pipes from freezing can save you from this common winter headache. Our guide offers practical tips for winterizing your home and safeguarding your pipes against the cold.

Why Do Pipes Freeze?

Frozen pipes are an inevitable risk when temperatures plummet to below freezing. When temperatures drop, the water running through your pipes begins to freeze. Condensation and residual water droplets are even more at risk of freezing than running water. The lack of water flow makes built-up droplets more vulnerable to cold temperatures. When liquid freezes, it also expands.

Just think about what happens when you put a water bottle in the freezer—the plastic bulges as the now-frozen water pushes the packaging to its limits. The same principle applies to the pipes in your home.

As frost and ice accumulate in the pipes, these frozen sections force the rising pressure “downstream” towards the faucets. The built-up pressure becomes too intense somewhere between the ice blockage and the pipe’s opening. Without a way to release pressure, the pipe bursts.

Frozen water pipes are more than a mere inconvenience that restricts water flow. They are also hazardous, leading to the risk of leaks and flooding once the pressure gets so strong that they rupture.

Which Pipes Are Most Likely to Freeze?

  • Pipes in Unheated Areas: Pipes in unheated interior spaces or outside your home are most likely to freeze. This includes pipes in garages, basements, and attics. Experts estimate that 35-40% of all burst pipes occur due to ice blockages in basements.
  • Risks Inside Your Home: It’s a misconception that only external or unheated spaces are at risk. Even pipes running through the interior of your home can freeze and rupture. The cold air from outside, entering through small holes or cracks, poses a significant risk. These openings, including those for telephone, internet, and cable lines, can allow enough cold air in to cause freezing.
  • Geographical Considerations: The likelihood of pipe freezing also depends on geography. Homes in northern climates, accustomed to snow and ice, often have pipes designed to withstand cold temperatures. In contrast, homes in warmer, southern regions might not be as well-prepared for sudden cold snaps, making them more susceptible to burst pipes.

Frozen Water On Drain Spout

What Is the Minimum Temperature to Keep Pipes From Freezing?

Typically, pipes will freeze when temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers have determined that 20 degrees is the temperature alert threshold.

There are other factors to keep in mind besides just temperature, though. Exposure to wind chill and other elements can kickstart the water freezing process even if air temperatures are above 20 degrees.

As mentioned above, even warm, heated interior spaces can present freeze hazards if any cracks or small openings let in wind, frost, and cold air.

For your safety, it’s best not to wait until temperatures drop below 20 degrees to insulate and safeguard your pipes. Instead, maintain indoor temperatures to around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Keep Pipes from Freezing

Step 1: Pipe Insulation

Insulating your pipes is a key step in preventing them from freezing. Focus on exposed exterior pipes first, as they are most vulnerable. Insulation options range from foam insulation sleeves to more sophisticated heat tape. If you’re in a bind, temporary solutions like newspaper or regular duct tape can help, but remember, these are short-term fixes.

Step 2: Seal Exterior Openings

Keeping exterior doors closed is essential in minimizing cold air intrusion. Pay particular attention to garage doors and basement entries. These often overlooked areas can let in significant drafts, putting your pipes at risk. Sealing these entrances protects your pipes and helps reduce heating costs.

Step 3: Optimize Indoor Air Circulation

Open interior doors to facilitate the flow of warm air throughout your home. This practice helps maintain an even temperature in all rooms, reducing the risk of pipes freezing in isolated, colder areas. Regularly circulating warm air is especially important in homes with uneven heating distributions.

Step 4: Drip Faucets

Allow your faucets to drip slightly during extreme cold. Moving water is much less likely to freeze. This method is particularly effective overnight or when temperatures are consistently below freezing. The minor increase in your water bill is negligible compared to the potential cost of repairing a burst pipe.

Step 5: Maintain Consistent Indoor Temperature

Resist the urge to lower your thermostat drastically during the night or when you’re away. Keeping a consistent, warm temperature in your home is vital. Sudden temperature drops can increase the risk of pipes freezing. A programmable thermostat can help maintain a steady temperature and be a cost-effective solution in the long run.

Step 6: Strategic Heating

Use space heaters judiciously in areas where pipes are most vulnerable, like basements or near exterior walls. Remember to follow safety guidelines when using space heaters to prevent fire hazards.

Step 7: Exterior Pipe Maintenance

For pipes exposed to the external environment, consider using electric heating cables or tapes. A thermostat can control these to ensure pipes remain above freezing temperatures.

Step 8: Professional Inspection

Consider having a professional plumber inspect your home before the onset of winter. They can identify areas at risk and suggest specific preventive measures.

Implementing these steps can significantly reduce the risk of your pipes freezing. While some measures may have upfront costs, they are investments in the long-term safety and integrity of your home’s plumbing system.

Learn how to prevent pipes from freezing with a glance at a snow-covered pipe in the ground.

Emergency Measures and Expert Assistance

When temperatures plummet unexpectedly, your pipes can freeze quickly, leaving you in a challenging situation. Here’s an expanded guide on what to do if you’re caught off-guard by a sudden freeze:

Use a Hairdryer for Quick Thawing

  • Gently warm frozen pipes with a hairdryer, starting at the faucet end and moving slowly towards the frozen section.
  • Keep the hair dryer moving to avoid overheating any single area which can damage the pipe.
  • This method is ideal for pipes that are easily accessible and not behind walls.

Apply Heat Tape for Targeted Thawing

  • Wrap heat tape or a heating pad around the affected pipe area.
  • Heat tape is particularly effective as it distributes heat evenly along the pipe.
  • Ensure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions to prevent any fire hazards.

Keep Faucets Open to Relieve Pressure

  • While applying heat, leave the faucet open to allow water to flow.
  • This helps to relieve the pressure build-up inside the pipe, reducing the risk of bursting.
  • Even a trickle of water can make a significant difference in preventing pipes from freezing.

Use Warm Towels

  • If a hair dryer or heat tape isn’t available, you can use towels soaked in warm water.
  • Wrap these towels around the frozen section of the pipe.
  • Change the towels frequently as they cool down to maintain a consistent warming effect.

Increase Indoor Temperature

  • Raising your home’s overall temperature can help thaw frozen pipes, especially those hidden behind walls.
  • Use your central heating system or space heaters, but ensure they are used safely and not left unattended.

Seal Drafts Temporarily

  • If cold drafts are causing the issue, use temporary measures like towels or foam insulation to block drafts near the affected pipes.
  • This can prevent further freezing and assist in the thawing process.

Remember: These emergency measures are temporary solutions. If you cannot thaw the pipes or if they have already burst, it’s crucial to shut off the main water supply immediately and call a professional plumber.

When to Call Professionals

Knowing when to seek professional assistance is crucial in managing and preventing frozen pipes. If you’re concerned about the risk to your pipes or find yourself facing a freeze situation beyond your DIY capabilities, it’s time to call in the experts.

Inspection and Prevention

Plumbing professionals offer inspections and preventive measures to minimize the risk of pipe freezing, especially before winter.

Post-Freeze Damage Control

After a pipe burst, seek professional help quickly to minimize damage. Water damage restoration and mold remediation services can dry the affected areas and prevent mold growth. Swift intervention is important to restore your home to a safe state.

Advanced Solutions

Experts can install self-regulating heating cables and redesign plumbing to prevent the risks of frozen pipes in vulnerable areas prone to extreme cold or outdated plumbing systems.

Contact the Professionals

There’s much to consider regarding protecting your pipes. Often, you might not even be aware that your pipes have become exposed to freezing conditions and put your home at risk.

While there are many things that you can do on your own to make sure your pipes are up to the task of weathering a cold winter season, calling in an expert to help never hurts.

At All Dry USA, we are a team of home damage and restoration professionals. Our experts can spot and take care of all the hidden exposure points that lead to frozen and bursting pipes. And if the worst has already happened, we can offer fast and efficient water damage restoration and mold remediation.

For more tips on winterizing your home, give us a call today.


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