This winter is far from over, but between the Bomb Cyclone and record-setting low temperatures, things have gotten very, very cold.
Those subzero temperatures could return at any time. And you can either wish that you’d properly prepared your properties to deal with the freeze last fall, or do something about it now while you have a lull between blizzards. We checked with the American Red Cross about the best ways to deal with one of the most destructive problems in severe weather: frozen pipes. Here’s what they told us:
Water is unique in the way that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever’s containing the water, including metal or plastic pipes. It doesn’t matter how strong the container is; expanding water can cause pipes to break.
The most frequent freezing takes place when exposed pipes are in:
Outdoor areas during bitter cold, as with water sprinkler lines, outdoor hose bibs and swimming pool supply lines.
Unheated interior areas like crawl spaces, basements, attics, and garages.
Uninsulated or under-insulated walls.
Keeping Pipes From Freezing
In late fall, and before the first snowfall:
Drain both the water sprinkler’s and the swimming pool’s water supply lines following manufacturer’s or installer’s directions. Adding antifreeze to these lines can be dangerous, and is not recommended.
Drain, and store all outdoor hoses. Close any inside valves attached to hose bibs, and open up the outside hose bibs for draining. Leave the outside valve open so the pipe won’t break when the water expands.
Insulate crawl spaces, basements, and attics.
Check for other areas where water lines are in unheated areas. Look under bathroom and kitchen cabinets, and in garages. All of these water pipes in these areas will need insulation.
Think about installing specific insulation products, like pipe sleeves or heat cable. Using newspapers as a wrap can provide some degree of protection for exposed pipes in locations that don’t normally endure subzero temperatures.
If practical, move exposed pipes indoors for the most protection.
Easing the Freezing
Open cabinet doors in the bathroom and the kitchen to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Move cleaners and household chemicals out of children’s reach.
When the weather is severely cold, open the faucet served by the exposed pipes and let the cold water drip. Running even a trickle of water through a pipe helps prevent pipes from freezing.
Set the thermostat and then leave it alone. Use the same temperature setting around the clock. This is worth a slightly higher heating bill because it can prevent a very expensive repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
Going away during the winter? Leave the heat on, but don’t set your thermostat for lower than 55° F.
Thawing Your Frozen Pipes
If your faucet works, but only at a trickle, that could indicate a frozen pipe. You’ll usually find frozen pipes against exterior walls. Other likely places for frozen pipes include the foundation, where the water supply enters your home, and exterior walls.
Keep the water running. As the melting begins, some drips of water will start coming through the faucet. Running water will speed up the melting process.
Heat up those pipes, but safely. Wrap an electric heating pad around the pipe, or use a portable space heater or a hairdryer. Another effective wrap option would be towels plucked from a tub of boiling water. No open flames, please. That means you, charcoal stove. No blowtorches, heaters that use kerosene or propane, or any other open flame device.
Apply heat to the pipes until full water pressure is back to normal. If the ice keeps winning the battle and refuses to melt, call a professional plumber.
Make sure all the other faucets are functioning properly. When one pipe freezes, others will, too.
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