Each winter, some 250,000 homes sustain damage when water pipes freeze and burst.
Recovering from frozen pipes is not as simple as calling a plumber.
An eighth-inch crack in a pipe can spew up to 250 gallons of water a day. Both plastic (PVC) and copper pipes can burst.
A frozen pipe can lead to a pipe burst, which can lead to more than $5,000 in water damage. Despite the current cold temperatures, there are still some last-minute actions you can take to reduce your risks of costly damage.
By taking a few simple precautions, homeowners can save the mess, money and aggravation that frozen pipes cause.
Before the cold hits
Insulate pipes in your home's crawl spaces and attic. These exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing. Remember, the more insulation you use, the better protected your pipes will be.
Heat tape or thermostatically-controlled heat cables can be used to wrap pipes. Be sure to use products approved by an independent testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories Inc., and only for the use intended (exterior or interior). Closely follow all manufacturers' installation and operation instructions.
Seal leaks that allow cold air inside near where pipes are located. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents and pipes. Use caulk or insulation to keep the cold out and the heat in. With severe cold, even a tiny opening can let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze.
Disconnect garden hoses and, if practical, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. This reduces the chance of freezing in the short span of pipe just inside the house.
When the mercury drops
A trickle of hot and cold water might be all it takes to keep your pipes from freezing. Let warm water drip overnight, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall.
Open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to uninsulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.
Before you go away
Set the thermostat in your house no lower than 55 degrees.
Ask a friend or neighbor to check your house daily to make sure it's warm enough to prevent freezing or shut off and drain the water system.
Be aware that if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it will be deactivated when you shut off the water.
If your pipes freeze
Don't take chances. If you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out, leave the faucets turned on and call a plumber. If you detect that your water pipes have frozen and burst, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve in the house; leave the water faucets turned on.
Make sure everyone in your family knows where the water shut-off valve is and how to open and close it.
Never try to thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame.
Water damage is preferable to burning down your house. You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe with the warm air from a hair dryer.
Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe.
Do not use electrical appliances in areas of standing water because you could be electrocuted.
Below, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) lists some common Frozen Pipe Myths:
1. Only A Plumber Can Prevent Frozen Pipes.
Not true. There are many things that you can do yourself to prevent your pipes from freezing, including sealing windows and doors, adding extra insulation, or use heat trace tape around various piping.
2. Your Risks Go Away When Temperatures Begin To Warm.
Actually, signs of a pipe burst are often only seen when temperatures begin to warm. When a pipe freezes the frozen water may act as a plug, allowing any problems to go unnoticed. Before checking to see if you have any issues when temperatures increase, shut off the water supply to reduce your water damage risks.
3. All Frozen Pipes Burst.
A pipe can freeze and not burst. However, a frozen pipe leads to a pipe burst, which can cause more than $5,000 in water damage. Prevent a pipe from bursting by not letting them freeze.
4. A Propane Torch Can Be Used To Thaw Pipes.
Don't even think about it! You may think it will thaw the pipes and prevent significant damage, but you are only increasing your risk of fire damage.