Winter weather takes a toll on a number of things—your hair, your skin, your energy bills, and the roads. And even though you might not think about your home’s water pipes on a daily basis, they might be taking a hit from the frosty temperatures too.
That’s because water could freeze in the pipes, causing them to burst. When water freezes, it expands in the pipe and increases water pressure. And that puts undue pressure on the pipe, whether it’s made of metal or plastic. It’s like accidentally leaving a can of soda in the freezer overnight (or a 12-pack case of soda in your trunk in the middle of winter, as I very foolishly did last year). And size doesn’t matter here: Just an eighth-inch crack in a pipe can spew as much as 250 gallons of water, according to State Farm Insurance.
If you live in the south, don’t think for a minute you’re immune to frozen pipes. According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, water pipes in southern climates may actually be more vulnerable because they’re often located in uninsulated areas such as attics or crawl spaces. Water pipes in northern climates are often located on the inside of the building insulation, where they’re better protected. But if you live up north, you’ll want to check for openings that could compromise your built-in pipe protection.
Regardless of where you live, here’s what you can do to winterize your water pipes:
- Open cabinet doors under sinks to let warm air circulate around the pipes.
- Disconnect outside hoses and shut off the water supply to the outside faucet.
- Tightly seal openings near pipes so cold air can’t get to them—even the smallest air leak could cause problems.
- Insulate pipes in unheated areas—crawl spaces, attics, basements, and garages. Look for pre-slit foam rubber or fiberglass pipe insulation sleeves at your local hardware store—they easily snap in place over your pipes. The insulation should fit snugly.
- Wrap pipes with heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables. Just make sure that you’re using Underwriters Laboratories Inc.-certified products. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for installation and operation to prevent overheating.
- Let warm water drip from the faucet when the temperature gets especially cold. The slow trickle of water relieves the water pressure that accumulates when water freezes in the pipes.
Want to know more? Download this handy PDF from the Institute for Business and Home Safety. In addition to tips for preventing frozen pipes, it will also show you what steps to take if your pipes do freeze, and what precautionary measures you should take if you go on vacation.
The Home Know-It-All