During the winter, when the temperature drops and the snow starts to fall, many homeowners worry about their pipes freezing. You may have heard advice about how to prevent your pipes from freezing like letting your faucet drip but still be confused as to how (and when) you should do that. Here are the facts about when pipes freeze, how you can best prevent frozen pipes, and what you should do if your pipes do freeze.
The Danger Zone: When and Why Pipes Freeze
Especially in places that typically see cold winter weather, like Iowa, well-constructed modern homes are built to protect pipes against freezing. In older homes, however, or during unusually cold temperatures, pipes that are most at risk of freezing are
- Exposed pipes in unheated areas of the home,
- Pipes located in exterior walls, and
- Any plumbing on the exterior of the home.
Exposed pipes in the basement are usually warm enough that they aren’t in danger of freezing. But exposed plumbing in areas such as crawl spaces, attics, and garages may be at risk. Field tests of residential water systems showed that for uninsulated pipes installed in an unheated attic, freezing began when the outside temperature fell to 20° F or below. Surprisingly, both hot and cold pipes can be at risk. As water freezes, it expands and can increase the pressure in your plumbing system; too much pressure can cause pipes to burst or crack.
Many homeowners don’t take appropriate precautions to protect plumbing that is connected to the outside of the home, such as outdoor kitchen plumbing, exterior spigots, or even a garden hose. Water expanding in a frozen garden hose can increase pressure throughout your home’s plumbing enough to burst an interior pipe.
How to Prevent Frozen Pipes
On the outside of your home, disconnect and drain your garden hoses (optimally, before the first hard freeze). If you don’t have frost-proof spigots, close the interior shut-off valve leading to each faucet, open and drain the spigot, and install a faucet insulator. When the temperature drops precipitously, keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage; open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around any exposed or underinsulated plumbing that runs beneath or behind them.
Make sure you keep the heat on inside your home set at no lower than 55° F, even at night or when you are gone for the day. Running water through your plumbing system helps prevent pipes from freezing and bursting—partly because running water freezes more slowly and partly because leaving a tap open allows pressure to escape. It’s sufficient to leave one sink on at a slow trickle; choose the one farthest from where the water enters your home so the water flows through as many pipes as possible.
If you’ve had problems with freezing in the past, you have a few options for more permanent solutions. You can have a professional plumber reroute pipes into a more protected location. This option can be very expensive, but if you’re planning a remodel, you might consider adding this into your plans. If pipes in your exterior walls have frozen in the past (signs include water damage, mold, and moisture build-up), it’s likely due to inadequate or improperly installed insulation. Opening up the wall and installing additional insulation can help prevent future freezes as well as make your home more energy efficient overall, reducing your heating and cooling costs.
For exposed pipes, like those in attics or crawl spaces, inexpensive foam pipe insulation is usually sufficient. You can supplement this with blown-in insulation or rolled insulation throughout your attic. Adding additional attic insulation can improve your home’s energy efficiency and help prevent other winter problems like condensation. You can also wrap problem pipes with thermostatically controlled UL-listed heat tape, which has internal heat cables that turn on at certain minimum temps.
If you’re going to be away from your home for a significant period of time during severely cold weather, shut off the main water supply, and have a plumber come to inspect and drain the system.
What to Do If Your Pipes Freeze
If you turn on your faucet and don’t get any water—or only get a trickle—it’s likely your pipe has frozen. If you can locate the frozen area and it is accessible, leave the faucet on and apply indirect heat to the frozen section of pipe. Wrapping towels soaked in hot water around the pipe or using a space heater to warm the surrounding area can help it thaw. NEVER use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open-flame device, and keep space heaters at least a few feet from the pipe. Heat the area until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if it's not accessible, or if you can't thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber. Calling a professional is always the safest option.
Hedrick Construction is proud to be a Platinum Preferred Contractor with Owens Corning, a company that makes top-of-the-line quality glass fiber insulation. We can help you learn more about supplementing your attic insulation, replacing your wall insulation, or insulating other at-risk pipes. We also help our customers take advantage of insulation rebates that are available from many Central Iowa utility companies. Check to see whether and how you can qualify for any of these rebates or incentives!
Contact Hedrick Construction today to schedule a consultation with one of our friendly and knowledgeable insulation professionals and learn more. For a free inspection and no-obligation estimate, click below or call us at (515) 597-7663.