The frigid weather continues so more homeowners are looking for ways to avoid frozen water pipes. Or maybe you've just finished cleaning up the water from a burst pipe and you're waiting for the plumber to get there (here are tips on what to do while waiting for the plumber). Regardless of the circumstance, dealing with frozen water pipes isn't fun for anyone.
Reasons Why You Get Frozen Water Pipes
It's not too difficult to understand why pipes freeze when outdoor temperatures drop. In fact it's not just the temperature, it's also the wind chill factor and why your home might be fine for several years and then suddenly you've got frozen water pipes. I've been in my home for seven years and this is the first time we had problems. There was no water at the kitchen sink two days ago, and the kitchen is on an outside wall.
What's different from the last six winters? The way the winds were blowing in a certain direction that drove cold air between our home and the neighbors. Obviously the wind at this angle found places to enter the exterior wall where the cold water pipes supplying our kitchen sink weren't protected adequately, and the pipes froze.
Fortunately our home is fairly new, so all the plumbing is pex tubing which is more flexible than copper pipe … and we were successful thawing out the frozen water (see how below).
There are many layers involved (review the thermal layers protecting your house) in wrapping your home to keep you warm. Most problems with frozen water pipes occur because the pipes run through areas that didn't get insulated or the insulation wasn't installed properly. The biggest problem I found with my handyman business was fiberglass insulation installed over the plumbing, rather than behind the plumbing to protect it from the weather. Today's spray foam insulation offer the best opportunity to fill in all the cracks and getting the insulation on the outside walls.
Unfortunately fixing many insulation problems isn't easy in existing homes, although you can make improvements when replacing your exterior siding. So here are the actions you can take to reduce the risk of more frozen water pipes.
Temporary Steps to Avoid Frozen Water Pipes
These temporary steps can be taken quickly without getting to the store for tools or materials.
- When temperatures drop into the single digits or lower (and remember the wind chill is even lower), you must run the boiler to keep hot water flowing through all your heating pipes.
- Turn on faucets (small trickle) to keep the water in the pipes flowing, both hot and cold water. Be careful not to let the water drain because the waste line might also be vulnerable to freezing.
- Open cabinet doors under sinks on exterior walls, and remove what's stored there to help heat from the room reach any uninsulated pipes.
Preventing Frozen Water Pipes
- Insulate exposed pipes in unheated areas of your house, focusing on pipes running along outside walls found in garages and crawl spaces.
- Install electric heat tape around pipes that are exposed to cold weather and likely to freeze. Using thermostat-controlled heat cables will protect you from forgetting to turn on (or plugging in) the heat tape.
- Inspect and seal gaps where pipes and wires enter your house as these allow cold air, which potentially may lead to frozen pipes.
- You may want to reroute plumbing pipes to move them away from your home's exterior walls, although this is an expensive option.
- Another option is to use antifreeze rather than water in your hot water heating system. You'll want to do more research on this option so here's an article to get started, 31 Tips on How to Apply Antifreeze to a Hydronic (Hot Water) Heating System, and How to Maintain It.
If you'll be away from your home for extended time during cold weather, you must keep your heat at a minimum of 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Or you can drain the water from all your plumbing systems, what's typically done for summer homes.