Frozen Pipes: Another Winter Hazard

Frozen-Water-Pipe[1]

Winter is coming. Winter’s freezing temperatures can bring a litany of problems for a homeowner. Many people learned this firsthand last winter during the ice dam fiasco that plagued the region.  Another major source of homeowner headaches during the winter months are frozen pipes. The damage caused by burst pipes can be massive as water leaks into the walls and floors of the home.

How does this happen?  Pipes freeze when they are exposed to extreme cold, freezing the water inside. As any school-aged science student can tell you, water expands as it freezes. This increasing pressure causes a break in the pipe. This may not get immediately noticed by a homeowner, however, once the ice in the pipe thaws out and the water begins to run again, it leaks out of the break causing damage to your walls, flooring, ceilings, etc.  The damage can lift floorboards and ruin drywall on your walls or ceilings. That is when the real headaches start.

Pipes that are most vulnerable to freezing are those that are exposed to outside temperatures such as hose spigots, pool/sprinkler supply lines, and water supply lines that run through uninsulated areas like garages, crawl spaces, attics, under/behind kitchen cabinets, etc.

There are some easy-to-manage solutions to help you prevent this problem.  Below are some recommendations from the American Red Cross on how to prepare your pipes for the cold weather.

  • Drain the water from swimming pool/sprinkler supply lines according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Do not fill these lines with antifreeze unless specifically required to do so as it is hazardous to humans, pets, and landscaping.
    • Remove, drain and store hoses used outdoors.
    • Close inside valves supplying water to the hose.
    • Open the outside valve to allow water to drain and any remaining water in the pipe to expand without causing the pipe to break.
  • Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets for water supply lines in unheated areas.
  • Insulate both hot and cold water pipes with products like a “pipe sleeve” or a UL-listed “heat tape”, “heat cable”, or similar materials which are made to protect exposed water pipes
  • Keep your thermostat set at an even temperature all day, and never below 55o F.

You do not have to spend a lot of money on special insulation.  Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes – even ¼” of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.

Taking these simple steps could help save you from a very costly and messy situation. For more information on preventing and treating frozen pipes, please visit www.redcross.org.