The big freeze: Protecting your pipes

Frozen pipes can cause devastating damage. Water expands while freezing and can create pressure in the pipes until the pipes burst. There are steps that can be taken to prevent frozen pipes as well as steps to thaw out currently frozen pipes.

Taking action before the onset of freezing temperatures with a few measures can be very beneficial. Insulation added to the colder and unheated rooms in the house, like the attic and the basement, will increase your defense against frozen pipes. In addition, adding insulation to external walls is a helpful preventative measure as pipes running through these walls are at a higher risk of freezing due to their proximity to the elements. All exterior faucets and spouts should be fitted with an insulating cover. Putting insulation around the pipes directly can also be beneficial as this helps keep cold drafts directly off the pipes. Insulated pipes will also have less heat loss when hot water is called for in the house. Insulating can be a cost effective method to help avoid frozen pipes.

During cold weather there are techniques to reduce the chances of frozen pipes. Turning the faucet on to allow just a trickle of water to flow will help prevent pipes from freezing as well as help thaw pipes that may already be partially frozen. Keeping the sink cabinet doors open will help circulate warm air from the house and will help disperse the cold air from outside the house. While these tricks are not an ideal long term solution, it is easier and cheaper than dealing with pipe bursts.

Using the thermostat properly can also keep pipes from freezing. It is best to keep the temperature the same through the day and night. If the house will be unoccupied for any length of time throughout the colder months, the temperature should be set to no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

If pipes do end up frozen there are a few methods that can be used to thaw pipes before they burst. Electric hair dryers, portable space heaters, and blankets soaked in hot water can be used to thaw pipes. It is not safe to use open flame devices as these can cause more damage. Keep thawing until full water pressure is restored and check all other pipes in case others are frozen as well. If the frozen area cannot be found, cannot be thawed, or cannot be accessed, a licensed plumber should be called.

Sometimes despite your best efforts, pipes burst in the winter. But knowing what to do afterwards is imperative and can help lessen the stress of the situation as well as further damage. First, make sure to turn off the water. This will halt the water flow and stop additional water entering into the pipes. Open all faucets and flush the toilets in order to expel any additional water that may still be in the pipes. After water has stopped flowing, or if unable to be stopped, call a licensed plumber. Cleaning and drying out the area of the burst pipes may be daunting, but could help prevent additional water and mold damage. Protecting your pipes with preventive measures is easy and cheap compared to the aftermath of burst pipes from freezing temperatures.

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