You wake up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water. You turn on the faucet but only a few drops trickle out. What’s going on? You can’t think of a reason the water supply would be cut down to a trickle. Except…is it winter? Have the temperatures dipped below freezing? You could very well be dealing with frozen water pipes. When water freezes, it expands, causing stress on your plumbing pipes. Hopefully, you can catch this in time, before the pipes burst and cause serious damage.
Property damage from pipes bursting due to the winter cold is among the most common risks for homeowners. Sometimes the leak is small, and you can resolve the issue quickly. If you’re not as lucky, it can take only an hour for a bursting frozen pipe to unleash hundreds of gallons of water in your home. Water damage not only ruins your floors, furniture, appliances, and more, it can lead to another problem: mold growth.
That’s the bad news. The good news is you can take simple steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again or never happens in the first place.
How to Prevent Frozen Pipes
Know which pipes are most at risk
The first step to prevent pipes from freezing and avoiding serious property damage is to know which pipes are most vulnerable to the cold and in need of protection:
- Outdoor pipes: hose bibs, sprinkler lines and swimming pool supply lines.
- Indoor pipes in unheated areas of your home or running through exterior walls, like in your basement, garage or attic, even the pipes in your kitchen cabinets.
- Drain all water from your outdoor hoses, water sprinkler supply lines and your swimming pool.
- Turn off the water leading to your outdoor hose bib but keep the outdoor faucet open so the pipe can expand as needed over the winter.
You can add insulation to those areas of your home that get cold but if that’s not an option, insulate the pipes in these spaces. You can buy products created specifically for keeping pipes warm in cold weather – pipe sleeves or an electric heat tape – or you can go old school and wrap the pipes with newspaper. As little as ¼” of protection can prevent water from freezing inside your pipes.
Going away during winter? Keep the heat on.
Whether you’re a snow bird who spends the winter in a warmer location or are going on a week’s vacation, keep the heat on in your home. You can set the thermostat as low as 55 degrees Fahrenheit. It may not seem economical but it’s cheaper than dealing with water damage.
Even if you aren’t traveling during the winter, it’s a good idea to keep your home at about the same temperature during the day and night. Many homeowners lower the thermostat overnight to save money on fuel. Try not to set the temperature too low to avoid a more expensive problem.
Open – and close – the doors
- Keep your garage doors closed in the winter.
- Open your kitchen and bathroom cabinets so the heated air of your home can help keep the pipes warm
- In extreme cold, keep your faucets open at a slight trickle. The running water will help prevent freezing.
- Use space heaters in unheated spaces and rooms affected by a severe cold snap.
How Can You Tell If Your Pipes are Frozen?
Hopefully you’re not experiencing the number one way to know your pipes are frozen, a burst pipe with water gushing into your home. If you notice any of these scenarios happening in your home, check your pipes for leaks:
- Low or no running water. Turning on the faucet and getting only a trickle or no water at all is one of the first signs you may have frozen pipes.
- Noisy pipes. Banging noises and gurgling sounds can mean you have air in your pipes but can also be a sign of ice.
- Bad odor coming from faucets. This can be a sign of a frozen outdoor pipe.
- Pipes with condensation or cracks. These are visible indicators of possible freezing.
- Bulging pipes. The frozen water expands but pipes don’t.
If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to call a plumber.
What To Do If You Have Frozen Pipes
If you suspect you have frozen pipes but don’t have the evidence of a burst pipe, take these steps:
- Locate the frozen pipe.
Start by checking each faucet in your home. If you get the telltale signs of gurgling or a trickle of water, check the pipe leading to the faucet. Does it feel unusually cold? Check the entire pipe. Repeat this process with each faucet in and outside your home.
- Shut off the water supply to the pipe.
Depending on the severity of the situation, you can choose to shut off the water entirely or just to the area where the frozen pipe is located, if you are able to do so.
- Apply heat to the pipe.
Apply heat to thaw the pipe and melt the ice inside. As you do this, turn on the faucet connected to the pipe to help the melting process. You can use a hair dryer, a heating pad wrapped around the pipe or a space heater placed close to the pipe (but make sure the heater is clear of any flammable materials). Do not ever use an open flame heat source like a blowtorch or a propane or kerosene heater. Please do not leave any heat source unattended.
Keep applying the heat until you can confirm that the water pressure in your home has returned to normal.
When in doubt, give us a call.
You can call us for help at any time. Our experienced plumbers can help you avoid the worst and help you get back to normal. Contact us online or call 215.799.2019.