During the winter months, one of the worst experiences a homeowner can have is frozen, broken water pipes and the mess that this can cause! A broken pipe can happen in the middle of the night, and result in water spraying out of the cracked seam or broken joint for hours before the problem is found.
These five tips can help you avoid the catastrophe of broken pipes, and eliminate the need for costly clean up and repairs.
1. Start with the obvious – insulating pipe wraps you can pick up at any home improvement store. Put them on hot water pipes to keep from losing heat and put them on cold water pipes to keep them from freezing and breaking. Focus on pipes in unheated areas in a crawlspace, basement, or cellar. You can also use electrical heat tape on exposed pipes; this product supplies warmth to the exterior of a pipe using an electrical current to keep the water from freezing. Any heat tape you choose should be researched first and then installed and operated according to the manufacturer’s directions to avoid any issues!
2. Seal off air vents in the crawlspace as part of your routine winterizing process annually. If you leave these vents open, cold wind blowing through can easily drop the temperature and cause pipes to freeze. Don’t forget to unseal them when the cold season is over so they can ventilate the house all summer.
3. Also as part of your annual winterizing, disconnect hoses from the water supply, drain, and store them. The shut off outdoor faucets (using a main water valve if possible) and rain them completely to avoid freezing water expanding inside them and breaking them. If you haven’t winterized and a cold snap is coming, leave the outside faucets dripping slowly to keep them from freezing. Alternately, you can install what are known as “frost-free water hydrants” wherever you have an outdoor faucet – these use a pipe that is buried more than two feet underground. Each time the hydrant is used, when it is turned off the excess water drains until it is below the “frost zone” of the ground and won’t freeze.
4. If the home will be left empty for a few days and the interior of the home will be left unheated, shut off the main water valve and drain water from pipes inside the home to avoid the most unpleasant possibility of finding broken pipes and ruined floors when you return. If you are leaving the heat on, but at a lower setting than usual, leave cabinet doors under sinks open to allow warm air from the home to flow around the pipes and keep them from becoming too cold. You can also leave indoor faucets trickling slightly on very cold nights to prevent ice from forming inside the pipes or faucet.
5. If a pipe does freeze, keep the faucet open even if no water is flowing. A frozen pipe may not actually be a broken pipe. When the water thaws, it needs an escape route, and if it thaws unevenly pressure can still build up and break the pipe unless the faucet is open to allow melted water to run off readily. If a pipe does burst, make sure every person in the house knows the location of the home’s main shut-off valve, as shutting off the water quickly is the only way to avoid costly damages!