There are some experiences most people never want to have – like a broken pipe. The aggravation and expense is bad enough, but there’s also the damage to our home. Walls, ceilings, and floors have to be replaced. Those memories stored in the basement or crawl space can be ruined. The damage may be covered by insurance, but you could have to pay for it all by yourself. Either way, you still have to live in a soggy construction zone until it’s repaired. Preventing frozen pipes is a much better option.
Before it’s too late, we need to think about preparing for the prolonged winter freezes. Planning ahead can make a surprise cold snap less of a surprise.
How to help prevent frozen pipes:
- Consider installing insulation products made for pipes:
- “Pipe sleeves” or UL-listed “heat tape,” or similar materials
- Newspapers can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes. A ¼” of newspaper can provide significant protection to pipes that won’t frequently freeze or be exposed to cold temperatures for a long time.
- Both hot and cold water pipes should be well insulated.Remove, drain, and store garden hoses used outdoors.
- Check around the home for water pipes located in unheated or under-heated areas (basement, crawlspace, attic, garage, and under sinks, etc.).
- It’s not recommended to “winterize” your home by draining the pool and other water lines, etc. unless you’re going to be away for a very long time. Most systems are not installed to be winterized this way, so when you shut the system down and drain the faucet and hose bibbs, you still have large sections of pipe that are full of water. This standing water can still freeze and burst the pipe
- Don’t put antifreeze in your pipes unless your licensed plumbing professional recommends it. Antifreeze is environmentally harmful and dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.
Once the cold weather has settled in, there are more precautions to take.
- Keep your garage doors closed to keep water pipes from freezing. It also keeps cold drafts from entering your home.
- Open the cabinet doors under sinks to allow warm air to circulate around the pipes. Be sure to remove any harmful cleaners and household chemicals.
- Let the cold-water trickle at the farthest faucet in the system from the main line and at the faucets on the northern side of the house. Running water helps prevent the pipes from freezing.
- Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both day and night. Suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures may produce a higher heating bill, but it may prevent expensive repairs to your plumbing.
- If you are away from home during cold weather, leave the thermostat set to at least 55° F to circulate warm air.
How to fix or thaw pipes that are frozen:
If you are caught with your pipes exposed, you may find you have a frozen pipe. If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle – if anything – comes out, you might be able to thaw the pipe before any damage occurs. Frozen pipes usually occur in exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation. Apply gentle heat to the frozen section of pipe using an electric heating pad, an electric hair dryer, heat gun, or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or any open flame. Apply heat until the full water pressure is restored. Keep the faucet open and as the frozen area begins to melt, the running water will begin to flow and help melt more ice in the pipe. Check all the faucets in your home. If one pipe is frozen, others may be, too. If you can’t locate the frozen area or if you can’t thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
Even with your preparations for the cold weather, a pipe can still freeze. But it can be a manageable problem instead of a complete disaster. First, determine where the pipe burst and if it is still frozen. You’ll want to repair the burst pipe before it thaws. You may need to shut off the main water supply to the entire house. The main shut off valve is usually located near the water meter or where the water supply enters into your home, but it may be out near the street. Then call your licensed plumber. Soak up any standing water with a towel or use a wet dry vac. Use fans to circulate the air to dry carpeting, etc. and prevent mold from growing. Depending on the amount of water, you may have to pull up the flooring or replace drywall and base boards.
Your licensed plumber may repair the burst metal pipe with a PEX plastic pipe. This might help prevent future breaks. But, you may want to consider relocating exposed pipes to prevent future problems. You may also want to consider adding more insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Your certified plumber may have additional suggestions and may have specials on equipment or other services. They may also have service plans, like The Abacus Club, that can help save you money on service calls and provide annual plumbing tune-ups.
You can call Abacus Plumbing & Air Conditioning in Houston 24/7 at 713-766-3605 or visit www.AbacusPlumbingAC.com for questions and scheduling information. Or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abacusplumbing.