Although frozen pipes aren't frequently an issue in our area, many pipes installed in local homes simply weren't designed to withstand freezing temperatures. Pipes in unheated parts of a home — in attics and crawl spaces, along exterior walls, etc. — could be susceptible to problems in the event that they freeze. If you aren't prepared to prevent or fix frozen pipes, they can cause serious damage. For the best ways to prevent frozen pipes in the wintertime, follow the steps below or consult a professional.
When to Worry About Frozen Pipes
Unlike standing water, pipes aren't likely to freeze at exactly 32 degrees Fahrenheit: even if the temperature outside your home is freezing, uninsulated parts of your home will still be a few degrees warmer. Instead, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety suggests homeowners should start worrying about frozen pipes (including bursting pipes) when the temperature is 20 degrees or below.
Avoiding Frozen Pipes
Before winter weather hits and temperatures drop, take these steps to ensure your pipes will continue to operate through the coldest months of the year without any problems.
- Drain your outdoor pipes. Before temperatures drop below freezing, drain your exterior pipes. If you don’t have shut-off valves for exterior faucets, contact a plumber to install them.
- Seal leaks in your pipes. Even small holes in your pipes can cause them to freeze faster than they normally would. Look for leaks near electrical wiring and openings like dryer vents, and seal any openings with caulk.
- Insulate your pipes. If your home has pipes in uninsulated areas like the attic, insulate them ahead of time. The more insulation you use, the less likely your pipes are to freeze.
- Use pipe-specific insulation products. Your plumber can recommend the best products for pipe insulation. He or she might install, for example, a pipe sleeve, heat tape, or heat cables to better insulate your exposed pipes.
On days when temperatures are below freezing, take the following precautions to ensure your pipes don’t freeze.
- Keep the heat on at night. You might not think your house needs to be heated while you're asleep, but your pipes are more likely to freeze overnight if you turn down the heat when you get in bed. Night is also when temperatures are at their coldest, so even if it temperatures weren't below freezing during the day, they could drop overnight.
- Run trickles of water through your pipes. Even running small amounts of water through your pipes can help stop them from freezing on cold days.
- Open the rooms in which your pipes are housed. Don’t trap your home’s heat so that it cannot reach rooms where there are pipes. Instead, periodically open the doors and cabinets that close off your pipes so that warm air can more easily move through these spaces.
Remedying Frozen Pipes
Frozen pipes won't necessarily burst, but they can if you don't take action. If your pipes do freeze, take the following steps.
- Apply heat to the frozen pipe. If you can identify where a pipe has frozen, try to thaw it yourself. Use a space heater, a hairdryer, or some towels soaked in hot water to thaw the frozen section of the pipe. This method may not work if too much of the pipe is frozen or if the frozen part of the pipe is inaccessible. And remember, never use anything flammable indoors.
- Keep faucets on. If a pipe has frozen, your first impulse might be to turn off the faucet. Instead, you should leave the faucet on! Flowing water can help thaw the frozen part of the pipe.
- Call a plumber. If you've tried all these methods and your pipes are still frozen, don’t despair. Instead, contact John C. Flood’s plumbers immediately. Our call center is open 24 hours per day, seven days a week to take care of your home if you have a burst frozen pipe.