Don’t Let Cold Weather Catch You Unprepared This Winter Season

Posted Monday, March 6, 2023

Every winter, many homeowners face the expense and inconvenience of frozen water pipes. But you can cross that off your list of winter worries by taking a few simple precautions.

Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses. Detaching the hose allows water to drain from the pipe. Otherwise, a single hard, overnight freeze can burst either the faucet or the pipe it’s connected to.

Insulate pipes or faucets in unheated areas. If you have pipelines in an unheated garage or cold crawl space beneath the house, wrap the water pipes before temperatures plummet. Hardware or building supply stores have good pipe wrapping and materials available.

Consider installing “heat tape” or similar materials on exposed water pipes. These are relatively easy to install, and hardware or building supply stores have many brands to fit almost any need. Use only UL-listed products and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Seal off access doors, air vents, and cracks. Repair broken basement windows. Winter winds whistling through overlooked openings can quickly freeze exposed water pipes. However, don’t plug air vents your furnace or water heater needs for good combustion.

Keep the heat on. If you’re going to be away from home for an extended period, make sure your thermostat is not set lower than 55 degrees.

Allow the faucet to drip. A dripping faucet relieves pressure on your home’s water system. You can leave on only one dripping faucet, but you want to ensure it’s in the right location. If you know where your water comes into your house, turn on a cold water faucet at the other end of the house to allow for water to travel through the entire system.

Find the master shutoff. It’s most likely where the water line comes into your house from the street. If it’s not there, it may be near the water heater or the washing machine. If a pipe bursts anywhere in the house — kitchen, bath, basement, or crawl space — this valve turns it off. So, find it now and paint it a bright red color or hang a tag on it. Be sure everyone in the house knows where it is and what it does.

What if it’s too late?

What if you wake up one day to find the pipes are frozen anyway? During an extended cold spell, it could happen despite precautions.

If you think you know where the freeze-up occurred and want to try thawing it out yourself, don’t under any circumstances use a torch with an open flame! The whole house could catch fire. Also, overheating a single spot can burst the pipe. Heating a soldered joint could allow it to leak or come completely apart.

The easiest tool is probably a hair dryer with a low heat setting. Wave the warm air back and forth along the pipe, not in one spot. If you don’t have a hair dryer, you can wrap the frozen section with rags or towels and pour hot water over them. It’s messy, but it works.

Be careful because the pipe may already be broken. It’s not leaking because the water is frozen. But, when you thaw it out, water could come gushing out. Be ready to run for the master shutoff valve if necessary.