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How to keep pipes from freezing

When winter brings sub-freezing temperatures, take care to keep pipes from freezing. If you don't, you could end up with a flooded home when plumbing expands with frozen water, then cracks and leaks when the water thaws and starts flowing again.

Tips to prevent frozen pipes

Here are some tips to keep pipes from freezing:

  1. Drain outdoor hoses and irrigation systems. Turn off inside water supply valves to hose bibs and leave taps open to drain any residual water.
  2. Do not turn off the heat if you leave your home vacant. Keep your heat on and the thermostats set to at least 55° F. -- in all heating zones of your house if you have more than one.
  3. Keep the house temperature constant day and night. When temperatures dip below freezing, don't worry about your heating bills. A flooded house can be a lot more costly.
  4. Insulate crawl spaces, basements, and attics. Don't forget about these unseen areas of your home where plumbing can be exposed to colder temperatures. Pipe sleeves, heat tape, and heat cable may help insulate exposed plumbing.
  5. Open the tap a trickle. Anywhere you have plumbing exposed in an unheated part of the house, open the cold water taps to allow the water to flow just a drip at a time.
  6. Leave kitchen and bathroom vanity cabinets open. It lets warmer room air circulate around the plumbing under your sinks, but remember to remove cleaning products that can be hazardous to children and pets.
  7. Keep your garage closed. If you have plumbing running through the garage, insulate the garage door and keep it shut.

How to unfreeze pipes

How will you know if you have frozen pipes? The water will only trickle out when the tap is fully turned on. Pipes located adjacent to exterior walls or where they enter the house from outside are the most vulnerable to freezing. If the problem is not extensive, you can try thawing them. Follow these steps:

  1. Open the tap. As the water melts it can start flowing and help melt the rest of the frozen water in the pipes.
  2. Heat the frozen portion of pipe. Use an electric heating pad or towel soaked in hot water to wrap the pipe. You may also apply heat with a hair dryer or portable electric heater if no flammable materials are present. Do not use a blowtorch or any other type of open flame to heat the pipe.
  3. Continue applying heat until full water pressure returns. Check all faucets to make sure no other pipes are frozen.

If you cannot find, access, or unfreeze the pipes, don't just wait until the weather warms or you might find yourself with water flowing where it shouldn't. Contact a professional, licensed plumber.