Winter has arrived in the northern latitudes, and with the snow and cold weather comes the potential for your pipes to freeze. Frozen pipes are not only annoying but also potentially downright disastrous, potentially causing thousands of dollars in damage. Here's what you need to know to keep yourself from becoming a victim of this easily avoidable situation.
Why Do Pipes Freeze?
When water freezes, it expands, and it doesn't matter how strong the pipe that holds it is. Whether the pipes are metal or plastic, the amount of force the expanded water exerts is tremendous. Outdoor water lines, hoses, and spigots easily freeze when the temperature drops below freezing. Pipes that are located on outside walls or in unheated areas like crawlspaces are also at risk, as they have no insulation.
How Can Pipe Freezing Be Prevented?
Pipes that are risk of freezing should be wrapped with insulation. High-risk areas include the basement, attic, garage, crawl spaces, and the areas under kitchen and bathroom sinks. Both the hot- and cold-water supplies should be insulated. While the hot-water pipes aren't as prone to freezing as the cold-water pipes are, insulating your hot-water pipes will help you save money on your heating bill. Ideally, you should use products specifically made for insulating pipes, such as polyethylene, fiberglass, or foam sleeves or foam and foil wrap. In an emergency, you can use newspapers for the short term. Insulating pipes is a simple job, but that doesn't make it an easy task to perform. Depending on where pipes are located, this may require crouching down in cupboards, crawling around a creepy crawlspace, climbing into the attic and balancing on rafters, or reaching overhead for extended periods. Insulation can also be expensive.
Thankfully, many people qualify for weatherization assistance. The U.S. Department of Energy sets the guidelines that states must follow when determining who qualifies for assistance. In addition to income qualifications, individuals who receive Supplemental Security Income, families who receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children, adults over the age of 60, and individuals with disabilities automatically receive benefits. Contact your state weatherization agency for more information. This program takes a whole-house approach, and an expert will perform an energy audit to decide what help you need. This will result in increased savings on your monthly utility bills.
What Can You Do in the Meantime?
When the weather forecast calls for extended days of below freezing or sub-zero temperatures, you can do several things to prevent your pipes from freezing.
- Prop open the doors under the kitchen and bathroom sink; this allows warm air to circulate.
- Keep the garage bay door closed if there are pipes in the garage, and if the garage is attached to the house, crack the entryway door.
- Keep the taps flowing by running a thin, pencil-sized stream of water.
- Set the thermostat to a consistent temperature.
If you think your pipes have become frozen, contact a plumbing and heating professional immediately. Do not try to thaw the pipes yourself. Many house fires have resulted from homeowners trying to use blow torches and other flammable devices to thaw their pipes. It is imperative you seek the help of a professional such as Able Plumbing-Pumps & Well Service to avoid a burst pipe, which will be messy and expensive.