How to Prevent Frozen Pipes
It's winter, so you're probably looking for ways to save money on your heating costs. While it may be tempting to turn the heat down—or even off if you're going to be out of town—doing so can put your pipes at risk of freezing, and freezing pipes can spell disaster to your home.
Preventing Pipe Freeze
When a pipe freezes, it can break and send water everywhere. That can lead to damaged drywall, damaged flooring and even mold if everything doesn't get dry right away. You could check your pipes if you could see them all, but many times they are behind the wall or in the basement where you don't always think to go. The good news is there are things you can do to prevent a freezing pipes disaster.
- Insulate the pipes you can see with pipe insulation. This is easy to do, inexpensive and you can find pipe insulation at most home improvement stores.
- Disconnect all outdoor hoses and cover outdoor faucets with insulated covers.
- Keep your house warm enough so indoor pipes don't freeze. (Don't turn the thermostat lower than 55 degrees.)
- If pipes are close to exterior walls, keep them warm by opening cabinet doors so warm air can get to them.
- If temperatures are forecast to be extremely low, let an indoor faucet drip. Even the smallest amount of running water can prevent your pipes from freezing.
- If you'll be gone for an extended period of time, turn off your water supply—just make sure it's drained first so any excess water won't freeze in the pipes and cause them to burst.
- If you have an underground sprinkler system, makes sure to get that winterized as well.
What to Do if Pipes Freeze
If you turn on a faucet in your house and there little or no flow, there's a good chance your pipes are frozen. To thaw them, the first thing you should do—and this is very important—is turn off the main water valve to the house. Then turn on all the faucets in the house and call a plumber. To find the main water shut off valve:
- Look for the main valve where the water supply enters your house (usually in the basement) or in a concrete box near the street.
- If the valve is outside your house, lift the cover with a large screwdriver.
- Use a pipe or crescent wrench to turn off the water.
- Mark the shut-off valve with fluorescent paint or tape so you can find it in the dark.
In addition, never use an open flame to warm the frozen pipes. Try these techniques instead:
- Use a blow dryer—just make sure you keep the cords away from water.
- Wrap a warm towel around the affected pipe, then wrap a heating pad around the towel. Keep the cord away from the pipe so water doesn't touch it as it melts.
- Put a space heater in the area of your basement that is under the room with the frozen pipe, but make sure to operate it safely.
- If you don't know where the frozen pipe is located, or it's in an area you can't get to, you'll have to call a plumber.
If a frozen pipe bursts despite your best efforts, turn off the water supply to your house immediately and try to get all the water dried up so additional damage isn't done. It's also a good idea to make sure all the adults in your household know where the main shutoff valve to the house is too, in case you aren't home when this happens. As always, it's a good idea to review your coverage for burst pipes and water damage with your Shelter agent before anything happens.