Preventing Frozen Pipes (and What To Do If They Freeze)

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As winter comes on, find out how to keep your pipes from freezing and how to thaw them if needed!

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How to prevent and thaw frozen pipes

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Frozen pipes are one of the most distressing problems a homeowner can encounter, especially during the frigid winter months. Here’s how to prevent pipes from freezing and how to thaw frozen pipes.

Freezing can create leaks as the frozen water expands and cracks the copper tubing. When this happens, not only will you have little to no water supply, but when the pipes do thaw out, you can have some severe leaks to repair—or worse. 

How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing

Prevention is key! Here are 10 tips:

  1. Keep all water-supply piping away from outside walls, where it could be exposed to cold winter weather.
  2. If it is imperative to have pipes located on an outside wall, they must be well-insulated. Piping insulation is sold in both rubber and fiberglass.
  3. Insulate pipes in all other unheated areas as well, such as crawl spaces, basement, attic, and garage. Fix the source of any drafts (such as near cables, dryer vents, bathroom fan vents, and windows) and insulate pipes at risk.
  4. Before winter, close the water shut-off valve inside your home that provides water to outside spigots, and then drain each line by opening its spigot until it no longer drips. Close the spigot.
  5. Keep garage doors and outside doors closed, and plug up drafts.
  6. Open all faucets, both hot and cold water, to just a trickle, to keep water moving in the pipes to help to prevent icing.
  7. Set the thermostat to at least 55ºF (13°C) both day and night—no lower. Higher is even better, especially if your home is not well-insulated.
  8. Keep doors to all rooms open to allow heat to flow to all areas, which helps to warm the pipes in the walls.
  9. Open the cabinets under the kitchen and bathroom sinks so that the warmer air temperature of each room can flow around the plumbing. (Be sure to keep cleaners and other hazardous chemicals away from children and pets.)
  10. Check your local forecast to see if you’ll be having subfreezing temperatures sometime soon.

When Pipes Freeze: How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

If worst comes to worst and your pipes do freeze, here’s what to do:

  1. If no water comes out of a faucet or it comes out slowly, suspect a frozen pipe. Check all faucets in the house to determine if the situation is widespread. If it is, open all faucets, turn off the main water to the house, and call a plumber.
  2. If only one pipe is frozen, turn on the appropriate faucet to help get the water moving in the pipe once it thaws. Locate your nearest water shut-off valve to the break. Don’t turn the water off at this point, unless you find that the pipe has actually burst.
  3. Try the hair dryer trick. Locate the area where the pipe has frozen. Then, starting at the faucet and working backward along the pipeline until you reach the frozen section, work the dryer up and down the pipe. Continue warming the pipe until full water pressure returns to the open faucet. Then, reduce the faucet flow to a trickle until the cold snap has ended. Caution: When using a hair dryer, be sure that it and its cord will not be near any water that might start to flow through a crack in a burst pipe.
  4. If water starts to gush out of the pipe while you are warming it, unplug the hair dryer and close the nearest water shut-off valve immediately. Keep the faucet open. Call a plumber to fix the burst pipe.
  5. If you can not reach a frozen pipe to warm it, call a plumber and shut off the water supply to the pipe. Keep the faucet open.

Get more tips for surviving winter weather, like keeping heating costs low in winter, winter weather terms, and keeping warm in the winter.

Have your pipes frozen before? Tell us about it below! We want to hear your tips and tricks for managing and preventing frozen pipes.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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