Plumbers have been busy during the recent cold snap because when the temperature plummets, the risk of pipes freezing goes up. In fact, frozen pipes are one of the most common causes of property damage during frigid weather and can cause more than $5,000 in water damage, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. The pipes that freeze most frequently are those in such unheated interior spaces as basements, attics, and garages. But pipes that run through your cabinets or that are against an exterior wall are also at risk. Here’s some advice from the American Red Cross on how to prevent your pipes from freezing as well as how to thaw them if they do.
How to prevent pipes from freezing
Once the temperature starts dropping outside, you should take measures inside to keep your pipes warm and water running. Some may go against your better instincts of conserving water and heat but the extra expense is nothing compared to a hefty repair bill. Here’s what to do.
- Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. (If you have small children, be sure to remove any harmful cleaners and household chemicals.)
- Let the cold water drip from a faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe—even at a trickle—helps prevent pipes from freezing.
- Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night.
- If you plan to be away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.
- For the long term, add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in those areas.
How to thaw your pipes
If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely places for frozen pipes include those against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation. If the water is still running, you can take the following steps but if you suspect a more serious problem, call a plumber.
- Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
- Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
- Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.
- If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you can not thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
If your you need supplemental heat, you can add a space heater to a room where pipes may be at risk. In Consumer Reports tests of space heaters, the Ambia ACH-120, $60, was the best at heating up a standardized room in 15 minutes. But models from Holmes, Lasko, Vornado and Bionaire were very good at heating a room in that time and also made our list of top space heater picks.
—Mary H.J. Farrell