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How to Prevent Freezing Pipes This Winter

Smart Leak Sensor Kit, Water Damage Prevention, Home Protection & Security, Home Tips

Published: December 17, 2021

Previously, we explored common reasons your pipes could be leaking (and what to do about it). As winter approaches, we're diving deeper into one of those reasons: rapid temperature change. As it grows colder and colder, the risk of pipes freezing, bursting, and causing serious home damage increases.

Should you be concerned? Well, the "temperature alert threshold," or the temperature at which uninsulated pipes begin freezing, is 20° Fahrenheit. (So if you live in an area where temperatures get nowhere near this cold, you're likely safe from freezing pipes. Check out other ways to prevent costly water damage instead!)

This temperature alert threshold is a rough guideline, however. Other factors come into play, including how long the temperature remains at or below 20° Fahrenheit, your home's insulation, the temperature at which you set your thermostat, and the location of the pipes within your home.

That means you might be at risk if:

  • You live in a geographic region where temperatures often dip below 20° Fahrenheit and stay there for at least six hours.
  • You live or have a second home in an area of the country where extreme temperatures are rare, but not unheard of; in this case, your home might not be as well-insulated as homes where frigid temps are the norm in winter.
  • You lower the thermostat at night or when you go on vacation, putting pipes in colder areas of the home at risk.

If any of these apply to you, read on for tips to protect your pipes.

First — Which Pipes Are Most At Risk?

Rapid temperature change, poor insulation, and thermostats set too low are three common causes of frozen pipes. Naturally, pipes in unheated interior spaces like basements, crawl spaces, and attics are at greatest risk, although pipes running along exterior walls may be susceptible too. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take before temperatures take a significant plunge, and on a daily basis throughout the winter.

Take These Precautions Before Temperatures Plunge

Ideally, you'll make preparations to protect your pipes before temperatures really start to drop (if you haven't already, now is the time!). Whereas the "everyday" tips we discuss later require minimal effort, these precautions require a bit more time and effort. Worth it? Well, when you consider the hefty repair bill (and unavoidable headache) that accompanies home water damage, the answer is a resounding "yes."

  • Evaluate if your home is well-insulated. Pros recommend a "touch test" — going around your home on cold winter days and touching parts of interior ceilings, walls, and floors to make sure they feel warm and dry — and a "comfort test," or noticing if some areas of your home are cold and uncomfortable while others are toasty. When in doubt, call an insulation pro to inspect your floors, windows, and ceilings.
  • If you do determine you need more insulation in unheated areas like attics, basements, and crawl spaces, DIY-ers can purchase affordable pipe insulation from any local hardware store, and follow helpful guidance to install it. Don't hesitate to leave this job to the professionals, however.
  • Locate leaks that allow cold air inside and use caulk or insulation to seal them. These leaks often occur around electrical wiring, dryer vents, and pipes.
  • Shut off water lines leading to outside faucets, drain spigots, and disconnect hoses for storing.
  • Yard irrigation systems also need to be winterized. This typically involves blowing out the water from the system. (If you'd rather not take this on yourself, there are professionals that can do this for you.)

Daily Habits to Protect Pipes All Winter Long

Now that we've covered the more time and energy-intensive measures, let's explore simple, low-effort ways to protect your pipes all winter long.

  • Keep your garage door closed as much as possible; this is especially important when the space above the garage is heated and may contain plumbing.
  • If you live in an older home that may lack adequate insulation or are staying in a less often-used space, like a cabin, open kitchen and bathroom cabinets to allow warm air to circulate to pipes within, especially if sinks are along an exterior wall.
  • Keep your thermostat set to at least 55 degrees — even at night and when you go on vacation. (Also, consider your heat source: gas-fired furnaces can better handle temperature fluctuations, while steam heat operates best at a steady temperature.)
  • Going through an extremely cold stretch? Turn on your home's faucets so that a trickle of water flows out. This prevents the water inside the pipes from freezing.

The last two tips may contradict your instinct to save money, but it'll be worth it if you're able to prevent costly water damage.

Help! What Do I Do If My Pipes Freeze?

Oh no . . . You turn on the tap and only a trickle of water emerges. This is a good indication of a frozen pipe. What next? If it's clear that the pipe is just frozen and hasn't burst, do the following. (If the pipe has burst, or you're unsure, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve and call a plumber instead.)

  • First, turn on the faucet. As the pipe thaws, water will run through, helping the ice melt.
  • Then, apply a heat source to the frozen section of the pipe (it'll likely look frosty and feel frozen to the touch). Try using a hair dryer (with caution!) or wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do NOT use any device with an open flame. This is a fire hazard, not to mention it could damage the pipes further.
  • Continue applying heat until water starts flowing again. Check on other water lines throughout the home.

What Else Can I Do to Prevent Water Damage? Consider a Leak Sensor.

If a pipe freezes and bursts, a strategically placed Leak Sensor can alert you to water accumulation before it's too late. The Leak Sensor from Hedge does this, and more. It also notifies you if your home's temperature dips below a specified range. That means you can prevent pipes from freezing in the first place, avoiding the costly aftermath altogether. (That's what we mean by "proactive protection.")

Coupled with the tips above, they can help you keep your home safe (and dry!) all winter long. Stay tuned for more home protection tips!

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