With temperatures dipping below freezing for the first time this season, White House Utility District (WHUD) is offering tips to help community members protect their pipes and prevent any winter weather-related water problems.
When freezing temperatures settle in, pipes can freeze, making them more susceptible to cracking or bursting. Depending on the severity, a cracked or busted pipe can lead to low water pressure – or in a worst-case scenario, no water – along with expensive cleanup and repair bills. It can also lead to higher water usage and a higher than average water bill.
“This is something that, unfortunately, we see every year,” said Nick Gregory, operations manager for WHUD. “We want folks to know the potential issues now, and how to prevent them, so they don’t end up with a big mess and an even bigger repair bill.”
There are several ways people can protect their pipes during the cold winter months, that vary by severity. In the late fall and early winter, when the frost begins, people should:
Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses.
Detaching the hose allows water to drain from the pipe so an overnight freeze doesn't burst the faucet or the pipe it's connected to.
Insulate pipes or faucets in unheated areas, or 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.
Seal off access doors, air vents, and cracks.
Winter winds whistling through overlooked openings can quickly freeze exposed water pipes. When temperatures drop below 50 degrees (Fahrenheit), it is best to close your foundation vents and any other openings where cold air can pass through. However, you should not plug air vents used by your furnace or water heater.
Later in the winter, when wind chill factors drop into the single digits or the area experiences extended periods of extreme cold, there are some additional precautions that people can take to protect their pipes:
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.
Find the master shutoff valve.
Usually located where the water line enters your house (or near the water heater or washing machine), the master shutoff valve turns off the water to the entire house. Paint it a bright color and make sure everyone in the household knows where it is in the event of an emergency.
Keep your garage door shut.
Leaving the garage door open during extreme cold spells can cause the water lines coming in to the water heater to freeze. Keeping the doors shut will keep the space warmer and help prevent pipes from freezing.
Let your faucets drip.
Letting a small trickle of water run from the faucet can help prevent pipes from freezing. This precaution is most often reserved for extended cold spells with temperature staying below freezing for several days, i.e. a “deep freeze”.
Leaving cabinet doors open will allow heat to get under your cabinets to your plumbing. This is especially helpful in kitchens and bathrooms where the plumbing is on an exterior wall of the home.
During an extended cold spell, even if you have taken all the proper precautions, your 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. Using the hair dryer, wave the warm air back and forth along the pipe. Also, be careful not to heat 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. And if it does, you’ll want to know where your master shutoff valve is located so you can quickly turn the water off. Finally, do not, under any circumstance, use an open flame to try and thaw the pipe.
If you have specific questions, call the WHUD Customer Service Center at 615-672-4110.