How to Prevent Your Pipes from Freezing

Preventing your pipes from freezing is not difficult, but does require careful preparations. Many people think that they are leaving winter behind as they load up the SUV and motor toward Florida. Before you start thinking about warm sunshine and sipping drinks on the deck of a condo somewhere, remember the faithful friend you are leaving behind for the winter – your house.

The first step in protecting your pipes is to think about areas that might be most vulnerable.  That means the pipes carrying water that are outside or in the least protected areas. A common culprit for a frozen pipe is the outdoor spigot that you use to turn the water on in the summer when washing your car or watering your vegetable garden. 

Secure outside spigot

The first step is to unscrew the garden hose. If you don’t do that, when freezing temperatures arrive, the water can freeze inside the hose, inside the spigot, even reaching inside the house to cause damage.

With the hose unscrewed and put away, you should wrap flexible insulation strip, a piece of rubber, or even an old t-shirt around the nozzle.  Now put a plastic bag over it and secure it with duct tape.  The idea is to keep water from getting inside the house – or in the water spigot. Many homeowners have returned from an extended stay away from home in the winter to find out how powerful water can be when it freezes. It can crack plastic pipes (no surprise), copper pipes and even cast-iron pipes.

Some newer homes have an shutoff switch that controls the water line leading outside the house.  Obviously, make sure it is turned off in the winter and on in the summer.

Monitor your heat

Another important step is one that people often overdo. Turn the heat down if you must, but not so much that you come home to penguins building igloos. If the heat is off and an arctic blast strikes while you were away, the water in pipes could freeze and cause multiple cracks in multiple pipes.

One place that is vulnerable in keeping your pipes from freezing is the crawl space under your house. This area can get extremely cold during a harsh winter and can be an obvious place for pipes to freeze. Heat from the house should radiate through the floor and warm the pipes.  However, it is best for the homeowner to take a few extra steps to ensure the safety of his pipes. Check into closing off the crawl space and insulating it.  This fix will cost some money and effort but be well worth it. The fix does not need to be elegant, it just needs to get done. A pest control person is probably the only person who will be seeing it and he won’t care what it looks like.  Just get it done.

If you have a pipe that is in a particularly vulnerable place, consider buying a heat trace cable.  These inexpensive items can be purchased at your local home improvement store or at an electrician supplier. Once it is plugged into the socket it will supply the pipe with sufficient warmth to keep the pipe from freezing.

Dealing with burst pipes

What happens if you did not take precautions to keep your pipes from freezing and return home from that lengthy visit to Florida to find several copper pipes have burst and water leaking in your garage, basement or kitchen? This is NOT a DIY moment. Call a professional plumber.  Not only will he have the know-how to fix the problem, but he will have specialized tools that can fix in minutes what might take the homeowner hours.

A common disaster is that the copper pipes carrying hot and cold water to the dryer in the basement have burst. The homeowner left the heat too low and there was little resistance to the cold outside temperatures. The plumber approaches the problem by observing where the two breaks are, knowing he will have to cut out the offending pipe and replace it.

The plumbing technician turns off the water leading to the basement, then checks various pipes to make sure they have not burst as well. Now he returns to the two pipes that must be replaced.  He cuts them using a precision tool that circles around the pipe, cutting as it goes.  The tool achieves the same effect as a hacksaw would, but is much more precise and is easier to use. He discards the burst pipe and reaches for the new piece that has been cut to replace the old.

Cleaned and ready for a connection

The plumber then uses a wire brush or hand tool to clean both the outside and inside of the existing pipes getting them ready for the new piece of copper. Next, the technician places a connector which will fit over the old copper tube and will accept the new tube at the other end.  A variety of these connections are available. A liberal amount of flux is placed inside the connector to guarantee a snug fit.

Now the plumber is ready to bring the heat, which can be refreshing in a basement so cold that it is the reason the pipes froze in the first place. Applying some heat through with a torch, the plumber solders the connection onto the old pipe and to the new. After some time to cool, the pipe is ready to carry water again.

When winter comes, you must see what you can do to prevent your pipes from freezing.  Treat your pipes like you treat yourself, protected and warm. But if you have some pipes burst because of the cold, get help fast. A reputable plumber can replace the burst pipes with new ones and have you back to normal soon.