The winter season is upon us again, and it's time to do a quick update on how to prevent frozen pipes in your home this winter. Nothing can ruin a day--or a whole season--like a frozen and burst pipe in your home. Pretty soon the snow will be sticking to the ground, and that means freezing temps and the potential for burst pipes, so here's some tips on preventing that nightmare from coming true.
Preventing frozen pipes caused by hoses
If you have a faucet that services the outside of your house, and connects to a garden hose, these are particularly susceptible to freezing.
Outside faucets are fitted with a freeze-proof tube within the hose, that sits within the wall of your home, because the hose bib (or the outside spigot), is designed to turn off water within the house. These freeze-proof faucets work great if they're installed properly (making sure it's tilted downward slightly, making sure water can pour out). They're also "freeze-proof" when there is no hose attached to the faucet, which will hold water that freezes in cold temperatures.
If a hose is left on the freeze-proof faucet, the hose will hold water, which can freeze in cold weather. The ice will follow the water up into the freeze-proof faucet, inside of your home, especially if its not properly insulated around the hose. This can potentially cause the freeze-proof hose within the home to burst, without you knowing it immediately, until the hose is turned on in the spring. If you turn on the hose in the spring, and notice low water pressure, this is a sign the pipe within your home may have burst.
Preventing frozen pipes caused by improper insulation
Homes in Colorado are built to keep the cold air out, but drafty areas can still exist, especially if you have an older home with lesser energy efficiency standards, or insulation requirements when they were built. Pipes to pay close attention to include those that are in walls that face the outside, or in places that commonly get drafty, like basements, attics and crawlspaces.
Outfit pipes in these areas with extra pipe insulation or wrapping, which can be found at hardware stores for a small expense. These additions better protect the water in the pipe from losing heat into the cold air surrounding it, and eventually getting as cold as the frigid temps outside, and freezing.
If there are cracks in the foundation, or the outside walls near plumbing, be sure to caulk these cracks, as even a pinhole crack in the caulk can allow enough freezing air near the pipe to freeze it.
Cold air can also accumulate in cabinets and under sinks, but you can easily prevent this by opening up cabinet doors so warm air from the house can circulate into the space. Electrical heat wrap is also available at hardware stores for pipes that are dangerously exposed to the cold. Two kinds are available, one that heats only when plugged in (which is less of a drain on your electric), and one that has a thermostat and heats the pipe when needed.
Preventing frozen pipes caused by pressure build up
If you know cold weather is coming, and that you have pipes that are exposed to cold (which you can't insulate properly), you can alleviate pressure in the pipe by allowing the faucet to drip. This doesn't prevent the pipe from freezing, but does relieve pressure on the pipe and lower the chance of it bursting.
Leaving faucets running will waste water, so only leave them on when you know pipes are dangerously exposed to cold, and make sure to turn both the hot and cold lines on if the faucet has both. If water stops dripping, this is a sign of a frozen pipe. Leave the faucet open to alleviate pressure, and call a plumber immediately (see below for more on what to do if you suspect a frozen pipe).
Preventing frozen pipes while on vacation
Skipping out on the cold weather for a warmer location? Make sure you don't leave your home exposed to the elements while you're away!
Many people turn down the thermostat to save money while they're out of town, but it can expose your home to cold weather--and frozen pipes, as we've learned. One of the best way to prevent frozen pipes while you're out of town, is clearing the pipes of any water (without water flowing through, pipes can't freeze).
To clear pipes, shut off the main water into your home, then turn on all water fixtures within the home (both hot and cold) until water stops flowing, and then turn off all faucets. This will ensure that you can really relax on your vacation and not come home to a disaster.
What to do if your pipes are frozen
If you turn on a faucet, and no water comes out, this is a sign of a frozen pipe. Call a plumber immediately, and then turn off the main water line into the house, which is typically located near a meter or where the main water enters your home.
Do not attempt to thaw the pipe with an open flame. You may attempt to thaw the frozen pipe with a hair dryer, and you should do so with the faucet open. Never use electrical equipment near or while standing in water, as this can cause electrocution.
According to State Farm, a 1/8 inch crack in a pipe can dump 250 gallons of water into your home per day. The water damage can cause expensive, and miserable havoc inside your home.
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