Preparing Your Water Pipes for Winter

Every winter, many homeowners face the expense and inconvenience of frozen water pipes – make sure you’re not one of them by taking a few simple precautions.

Before the first freeze, you should:

1. Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses and fixtures. Detaching the hose allows water to drain from the pipe so an overnight freeze doesn’t burst the faucet or the connected pipe. It’s also a good idea to use foam faucet covers on any outdoor fixtures, especially older ones, and be sure to winterize your backflow prevention device.

2. Seal off access doors, vents or cracks. Winter air blowing through overlooked openings can quickly freeze exposed water pipes. Sealing off any access doors, vents or cracks will prevent this. However, DO NOT plug air vents used by your furnace or water heater.

3. Insulate pipes or faucets in unheated areas, or those in areas that are exposed to the cold. It’s best to wrap water pipes in unheated areas (such as the garage or crawl space) before temperatures plummet. You can find pipe wrapping materials at any hardware or building supply store.

4. Find the master shutoff valve. It’s always a good idea to know where your master water shutoff valve is located. If a pipe bursts, turning off the water quickly will help minimize damage to your home.

During extended periods of extreme cold, you should:

5. Consider installing heat tape or heat cable. Install “heat tape” or similar materials on all exposed water pipe (i.e. exterior pipe, or pipe located where the temperature might drop below freezing). It is relatively easy to install and can be found at your local hardware or building supply store. Be sure that you use only UL-listed products and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

6. Keep garage doors shut. Keeping your garage door shut will keep the coldest air out of the garage and help prevent pipes running into your home from freezing.

7. Open cabinet doors in kitchens and bathrooms on exterior walls. This allows warmer air from the home in around the pipes and can help prevent freezing.

8. Let your faucet drip. Allowing a faucet in your home to drip slowly (one drip per 2-3 seconds) will keep the water in your pipes moving enough to prevent freezing. This slow of a drip might add $1 or $2 dollars to your monthly water bill, which is small in comparison to the hundreds or thousands of dollars a burst pipe could cost (repair and cleanup).

What if it’s too late?

During an extended cold spell, even if you’ve taken all the proper precautions, a home’s pipes can still freeze. If you think you know where the freeze occurred and want to try thawing it yourself, the easiest tool to use is a hair dryer with a low heat seating. Do not, under any circumstance, use an open flame. Using the hair dryer, wave the warm air back and forth along the pipe. Also, be careful not to warm only one spot on the pipe – doing so can cause it to burst. 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 when heating the pipe. It may already be broken and just not leaking because the water is frozen. When you thaw it out, the water could come gushing out. If it does, you’ll want to know where your master shutoff valve is located so you can quickly turn the water off.

If your water suddenly stops flowing, give us a call. One of our field technicians can do a quick check at your meter (like in the video below) to see if frozen pipes might be the cause.

Source: American Water Works Association;

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