Plumbing: Prevent Frozen Water Pipes – On the House

Plumbing: Prevent Frozen Water Pipes

By on January 15, 2015
winterize pipes

Nearly twenty-five winters ago we had occasion to rent a cabin in Lake Tahoe. What a vacation, we skied, sledded and had snow ball fights followed up by evenings of conversation around a warm, inviting fire. It was a blast. Keep in mind that we are from California where snow is not often seen in most parts of the state. One night the water pressure dropped and there was no hot water to shower with. We figured the pilot light had gone out on the water heater. A short trip to the water heater shed resulted in a surprising discovery. We found icy water gushing from a cracked copper line connected to the water heater. The pipe had frozen and burst. As you might well imagine, adrenaline was pumping full-force as we attempted to temporarily stop the leak. Shortly thereafter we gave thanks to the flood gods that the break had occurred away from the house. Not having hot water was bad enough without suffering the indignity of sleeping on a wet mattress or a soaked couch. We learned a lot about how water pipes react to cold weather on that trip.

We were lucky. Believe it or not, each winter, an average of a quarter-million homes suffer extensive damage due to burst water lines in their plumbing system.

If your water lines have been frozen or if you’ve already experienced a burst water line this winter you may feel that it might be a waste of time to read this week’s offering on how to prevent the problem. Wrong! Frozen water lines are not like lightning. Water lines can freeze repeatedly, requiring broken water line repair again and again. This job may require professional help from plumbers at Water Line Service Houston TX to avoid the same issue.

Here are a few things that you can do to reduce the possibility of an occurrence like the one we experienced including the mess, the cost and the annoyance.

Begin with insulation. Insulate your water heater and hot and cold water lines. All water lines – every single one that you can get to. It is especially important to do this in the attic (and between floors in homes where the between floor joist are vented to the exterior). An overhead leak does the most damage (i.e. wallboard, plaster, furniture, flooring, wallcovering, etc.). Pipes in the attic and subarea are the ones that are the most susceptible to freezing – and usually – the easiest to get to. Pre-formed pipe insulation can be purchased in three- and six-foot lengths for half-, three-quarter- and one-inch pipe sizes. A slit along the length makes installation a breeze for even the clumsiest d-i-yer. We suggest duct tape (quack! quack!) wrapped around end connections and at eighteen-inch intervals.

If you are in a really cold area where temperatures frequently drop below freezing we suggest heat tape – between the pipe and the insulation. Be sure that the manufacturer of the heat tape approves of the use of insulation over its product. Remember that pipe tape is electrical wire designed to overheat itself. Pipe heating systems are safe and we recommend them. But, you must be sure to precisely follow the manufacturer’s installation, use and safety instructions. Finally, don’t buy an import that isn’t UL approved. Doing so could result in a shockingly flaming surprise.

Cold air is what freezes water pipes. Insulation and electrical pipe-warming systems are important to prevent the problem. But don’t be confused and block off vents to the attic or subarea. This ventilation is needed to prevent fungus growth and other types of damage. On the other hand, be sure to seal gaps at pipe and wire penetrations in walls and floors. Frosty air can enter your home and cause a faucet or water line to freeze and literally explode. Penetrations can be blocked using a canned foam sealant or by stuffing the openings with pieces of insulation.

Experienced snow-dwellers know that a dripping faucet is a good thing. To prevent pipes from freezing let a faucet trickle. The slight movement of liquid in the system will usually do the trick.
Run both hot and cold water – a tiny bit of each. Use the faucet located farthest from where the water line enters your home. Actually, all faucets located at outside walls should drip just a tiny bit when the temperature drastically drops. Oh, and don’t forget to insulate the pipes outside and in the garage or out-building.

Finally, make sure that your thermostat is set to at least 60 degrees. Also, look into a digital setback thermostat. A modern thermostat can be programmed to control the temperature in your home for weeks on end. Not a bad idea if you plan a vacation or if you have a busy family and work schedule.

Keep the following items on hand to make a temporary repair if your preventive measures fail and a burst results:

  • a couple of hose clamps
  • a short piece of hosing
  • a pipe cutter or a hacksaw

Use the hacksaw or the pipe cutter to cut out the damaged section of pipe. Use the short section of hose to bridge the gap between the two good sections of pipe and use a clamp at each end to hold everything in place until the nearby plumber gets there. Make sure to contact experts like Moffett Plumbing & Air after your DIY repair. You might also want to avail the services of professional plumbers from Sharp’s website.

Remember when you need a plumber the worst everyone else does too!

By the way, what we learned that night in Lake Tahoe was that fixing the break doesn’t always completely solve the problem. The next night another line burst. We have since learned the importance of utilizing the techniques and information in this article. You might say we became experts in two nights – 25 years ago.

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