Preventing Frozen Pipes

Frozen Pipes
(Photo Credit: IBHS)

Pipes that freeze and burst can result in extensive property damage. Once a pipe freezes, continued expansion and freezing causes pressure to build up in the pipe between the blockage and the faucet. This pressure causes the pipe to burst in areas where little or no ice has actually formed. Here are some precautions to help avoid frozen and burst pipes and water damage.

Be prepared:

  • For pipes most vulnerable to freezing—in attics, crawlspaces, and outside walls—insulate with foam sleeves or wrapping.
  • Caulk cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations to keep cold wind away from pipes.
  • Purchase a backup generator to keep your furnace running when power fails.
  • Know where to turn off the water supply or water pump.
  • Drain outside faucets and use insulated faucet covers (found at home improvement stores).

During periods of severe cold:

  • Keep cabinet doors open to let the warm interior air circulate around pipes under sinks and adjacent to outside walls.
  • Turn on all faucets to a slow drip to prevent pressure from building in the pipes.

Before leaving for an extended period of time:

  • Set the thermostat no lower than 65 degrees.
  • Ask someone you trust to check the property while you’re away.
  • Consider turning off the water and draining the system. Shut off the main water valve and turn on every water faucet—hot and cold—until the water stops running. You can then shut off the faucets since there will be no water, and therefore no pressure, in the system. When you return, turn on the main value and let faucets run until the system is full and pressurized.
  • Consider installing a temperature-monitoring device or using an app on your smartphone.

My Pipes Froze. Now What?

Turn on all faucets to release pressure. Turn off the water supply and call a plumber. Do not try to thaw the pipe using an open flame, as this will cause damage to your pipe and may cause a building fire. You might be able to thaw the pipe with a handheld hair dryer but do so slowly to avoid super-heating any adjacent wood and creating a fire hazard. Start at the faucet end of the pipe, with the faucet open. Never use electrical appliances while standing in water as you could get electrocuted.

For additional information on preventing or dealing with frozen pipes you can read more from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.