Preventing Frozen Pipes in Your Home

It’s a fact that January in Utah can be cold! Any time the temperature drops below freezing (32º Fahrenheit), water can turn to ice. When that happens inside a pipe or plumbing fixture, the expansion can cause breaks, leaks, and floods.

Fortunately, a little planning can help you avoid problems.

First, consider the outside.

  • Have you winterized your sprinkler system? If not, do it now! Turn off your stop and waste. Depending on how your system is designed, it may drain itself, or you may need to blow out the pipes with compressed air. If in doubt, consult a qualified landscaper to make sure the job is done properly.
  • Disconnect outside hoses from spigots. Ice in a hose can damage not just the hose, but the pipes in your house as well.
  • Consider shutting off water to outside spigots. This is particularly important if the pipes pass through an unheated basement or crawl space. Turn off the supply to the spigot and open the spigot to drain out any remaining water.

Protect pipes inside too.

Insulate pipes that pass through unheated basements or crawl spaces. If the area gets particularly cold, you might want to consider wrapping the pipes in a heat tape or cable. Be sure to follow the instructions, since different products are used differently.

  • Repair broken windows and keep outside doors and windows closed.
  • Seal leaks that allow cold air inside where pipes are located. Look for leaks around dryer vents, electrical wiring, and pipes. Use caulking or insulation to seal these areas.
  • Open cabinet doors on cold nights. Especially in older houses, pipes under sinks on an exterior wall might get very cold. Opening the cabinet door allows warmth from the room to reach the pipes.

If you’re leaving town…

If you’re taking a winter vacation, you might be tempted to turn the thermostat WAY down to save money while you’re gone, but experts recommend you keep it at a minimum of 50º to keep pipes from freezing. Ask a neighbor to check your house periodically to make sure the pipes aren’t frozen.

If you are leaving for more than a couple of weeks (or if you own a vacant property), you might want to shut off the water at the main and drain the pipes. Be sure to flush all toilets after shutting off the main.

If your pipes freeze anyway…

How can you tell if a pipe is frozen? If you turn on a tap and no water comes out, or if a toilet doesn’t refill after a flush, a frozen pipe might be the cause. Sometimes you can actually see frost on an exposed pipe.

Frozen pipes can cause flooding in your home, especially if the pipe is damaged and bursts. Some methods people use to thaw pipes – such as a blowtorch or other open flame – can cause even more damage and may set your house on fire! Never use an open flame to thaw a pipe.

The safest way to deal with a frozen pipe is to call a licensed plumber. If you want to handle it yourself, be sure to turn off the water to the affected area to prevent flooding when the pipe thaws. Heat tape or a blow dryer are often used to gradually thaw a pipe. Be aware that the pipe may be damaged even if it’s not obvious, so once it’s thawed, watch for leaks when you turn the water back on.

Take photos and document any damage for a possible insurance claim.

And remember – the best way to deal with frozen pipes is to prevent the freezing in the first place.