When temperatures plummet, the water that supplies your home's faucets and fixtures is in danger of freezing. Because water expands as it turns to ice, frozen pipes are prone to bursting. At the highest risk of freezing are pipes that run against exterior walls and those in unheated or uninsulated places, such as the attic, basement or garage.
These simple tricks will help you protect pipes from freezing and keep the water running in cold weather — and will guide you on what to do if you think your pipes might be frozen.
Disconnect garden hoses
After you finish tending the garden, disconnect, drain and store hoses. Close any shut-off valves that supply outdoor hose bibs and open the faucet outside to drain the line. Keep it open throughout the winter to allow space for any water that remains in the pipe to expand. Consider using faucet covers during the colder months for extra protection. Also, drain water from sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer directions.
Pipe insulation is fairly inexpensive and widely available at home improvement stores. Consider insulating any pipes located in unheated areas, such as in the attic, basement, crawl spaces or garage. In extreme cold, pipes underneath kitchen and bathroom sinks are also vulnerable to freezing. Apply foam insulation or wrap pipes in heat tape or thermostat-controlled heat cables.
Seal air leaks
Inspect your home for any cracks or openings that could let in cold air. Seal any holes around the piping in interior or exterior walls and the sill plates, where your home rests on its foundation.
Open doors and cabinets
Ensure warm air can circulate evenly throughout your home during cold snaps. Leave interior doors ajar and open kitchen and bathroom cabinets to distribute heat consistently around rooms. Remove any household chemicals or cleaners from open cabinets if you have small children or pets.
Let faucets drip
Start a drip of water from all faucets served by exposed pipes. Leaving a few faucets running slightly will also relieve pressure inside the pipes and help prevent a rupture in case the water inside freezes.
Keep consistent temperature
Set your thermostat to maintain a consistent temperature day and night. In normal weather, bumping down your thermostat at night or when you're not at home can help save on heating costs, but in extreme cold, a steady temperature is key to keeping pipes free of ice. And if you'll be away from home during cold weather, keep the thermostat set to at least 55 degrees F.
What to do if pipes freeze
If you suspect you have a frozen pipe, start by turning on the faucet. If only a drip or trickle of water flows out, you likely have an ice blockage. Next, carefully inspect the exposed pipe for cracks or breaks. If any pipes have burst, turn off the main water supply and immediately call a plumber. Attempting to thaw a pipe that has already burst can cause water to flow out and flood your home.
If the pipe is intact, turn on the faucet to allow water to flow as the ice melts. Gently apply heat to the frozen section of pipe using a heating pad, hairdryer, space heater or warm, damp towels, never an open flame. If you are unable to access or safely thaw the frozen pipe, call a plumber right away.