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Preventing and dealing with frozen pipes

Seasonal Updated: January 6, 2022

Be prepared as cold weather approaches

As colder weather approaches and temperatures begin to dip below freezing, a frozen pipe can not only ruin your day but also be an expensive repair if it bursts. This article will guide you on how to prevent your pipes from freezing, how to know if they are frozen and what to do if they are.

First things first, be prepared

Knowing where the water shut off valve inside your home is located means you won’t have to search for it in the middle of an emergency. The main shutoff valve in a colder-climate home is usually found in the basement near the front of the house. There are two kinds of shutoff valves: one has a lever handle (typically found in newer homes) and the other has a wheel.

a pipe handle

Prevent your pipes from freezing

Pipes can freeze literally overnight, so don’t wait to take these preventative measures:

  • For outdoor pipes:
    • As temperatures begin to plummet, shut off the water valve to the outdoor spigots.
    • Drain the excess water from the pipe and consider purchasing an outdoor faucet cover or freeze cap.
  • For indoor pipes:
    • Use foam insulation to cover exposed pipes, and for particularly vulnerable pipes (e.g., pipes in crawl spaces, attics and outside walls), heat tape can be added.
    • During extremely cold temperatures, you can keep your pipes warm by temporarily placing a space heater near the pipe.
    • Keep your garage doors closed and open cabinet doors that lead to pipes on outside-facing walls to promote heat circulation.
    • Maintain one dripping faucet farthest away from the water source to keep water moving through the entire length of your system.

Signs your pipes might be frozen

It can be very difficult to identify exactly where a pipe might be frozen, but look for signs such as:

  • Water only trickling through your faucet
  • Frost, condensation or small surface cracks on the exterior of the pipe
  • Gurgling or banging sounds from ice traveling through your pipes

Note that if a pipe bulges, that section of the pipe will need to be replaced.

Thaw your frozen pipes

If your pipes are frozen, it’s important to act quickly:

  • Turn off the main water valve.
  • Turn up the temperature in your home.
  • Open all cabinet doors beneath the bathroom and kitchen sinks.
  • Contact a plumber immediately.

Make sure to keep towels and a bucket handy in case water starts to gush from the thawed pipe.

What to do if a pipe bursts

If you haven’t already done so, shut the water valve off, then contact a plumber or professional immediately.

Final thoughts

Aside from adding extra insulation and sealing up cracks and holes to keep your home warm, you can install a smart thermostat to keep the temperature in your home consistent. Smart thermostats usually automatically lower the temperature at night when you’re sleeping, but you can disengage this function when the weather forecasts very cold nighttime temperatures.

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