How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing: Preventing Water Damage During Extremely Cold Weather

Water pipes are prone to freezing when the temperature falls below 32° F / 0° C.  Water expands as it freezes, which creates pressure in the pipes. If enough pressure builds up, it may cause pipes to burst and result in water damage throughout your home. In order to prevent a burst water pipe, learn how to prevent pipes from freezing.

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What Pipes Are Most Likely To Freeze

While any pipe or plumbing fixture can freeze if it gets cold enough, here are the pipes that are most likely to freeze:

  • Pipes or Plumbing Fixtures…
    • Near exterior walls or with minimal insulation
    • In unheated spaces, including garages, crawl spaces, and attics
    • Where heat poorly circulates, such as below kitchen or bathroom cabinets
  • Outdoor faucets and hose bibbs
  • Water sprinklers and irrigation lines
  • Swimming pool lines
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Why Your Pipes Freeze

While just one of these points could cause your pipes to freeze, typically one or more of the following will be contributing factors.

Extremely Low Temperatures

While water freezes at 32° F / 0° C, your home offers some protection to help prevent pipes from freezing. However, extremely low temperatures mixed with other factors can cause pipes to freeze. Typically, the temperature needs to remain below 20° F / -7° C for several hours before you need to be concerned about your pipes freezing.

Uninsulated Pipes

Homes and pipes in traditionally cold weather climates are usually insulated to prevent your pipes from freezing in most normal conditions. Unfortunately, homes and pipes in warmer climates usually have less insulation, which increases the risks of your pipes freezing if the conditions are right. That said, even well-insulated pipes can freeze during extremely cold periods. If you live in the South, take precautions to prevent pipes from freezing if temperatures dip below 20° F / -7° C. For those living in the North, take precautions if temperatures fall below 0° F / -18° C.

Thermostats Set Too Low

The risk of your pipes freezing increases if you set your thermostat too low, especially during extremely low temperatures. We recommend never setting your thermostat lower than 55° F / 13° C. Ideally, you should keep your thermostat closer to 68° F / 20° C, if not warmer. Depending on the insulation in your home, you may need to set your thermostat even higher just to maintain a comfortable temperature when the temperature outside is extremely low.

How To Prevent Pipes From Freezing

If you live in a cold weather climate, you should consider winterizing your home and safeguarding your pipes every fall. Those that live in traditionally warmer climates should consider winterizing pipes before extremely cold weather events because your homes likely have little or no insulation.

Insulate Your Pipes

Pipes that are outdoors or in colder areas of your home are most vulnerable. Pipe insulation is relatively inexpensive and available at most hardware stores. Wrap visible pipes with insulation, making sure to cover all of the exposed pipes. In addition to insulating your pipes, consider having your entire home insulated as well. This will help keep out cold air during the winters, as well as keep warm air out during the summer.

Winterize Your Home

Another way to prevent frozen pipes is to winterize your home. Check for drafts around doors, windows, electrical outlets, and switches. Install weather stripping around doors and windows and insult outlets and switches. If there are especially large gaps or cracks, seal them with caulk. Keep windows and doors closed and close curtains at night. If you have an attached garage, keep it closed as much as possible as well.

Leave Your Faucets Running

If the temperature is expected to dip below0° F / -18° C overnight, consider leaving your faucets running. Even just a bare trickle will help prevent pipes from freezing. Hot water pipes are just as likely to freeze as cold water lines, so make sure water is flowing through both sets of pipes. For faucets with two handles, turn both handles on and allow water to flow just slightly. If you have a single handle faucet, set it in the center position.

Plan Before Going on Vacation

If you are going on vacation, keep your thermostat set at 55° F / 13° C or warmer. Open cabinets below sinks to promote airflow and make sure all windows, doors, and curtains are closed to keep out cold air. You should have a friend, family member, or neighbor check on your home every day. Make sure they have a key so they can enter your home and check for potential issues. Ideally, they would be able to stay in your home overnight, when temperatures are usually coldest.

Tips to Prevent Your Pipes From Freezing

These tips will help prevent your pipes from freezing:

  • Wrap pipes with insulation, especially in areas without heat, including garages, crawl spaces, basements, and attics, or that are near outside walls.
  • Leave cabinet doors below sinks open to allow warm air to circular near pipes.
  • Shut off exterior faucets at their interior shutoff valves. Drain those faucets from the outside and disconnect all hoses. If exterior faucets don’t have interior shutoff valves, install an outdoor faucet cover.
  • During extremely low temperatures, turn faucets on just slightly. Allowing them to drip will help prevent pipes from freezing.
  • If you have water pipes in your garage, keep the garage door closed when not entering or exiting.
  • Keep your thermostat above 55° F / 13° C, even if you are not at home.
  • Ask someone to check on your home if you plan to be away longer than 24-hours during periods of extremely low temperatures. You should also keep your heat set above 55° F / 13° C, if not higher.

Signs of Frozen Pipes

Typically you don’t need to worry about your pipes freezing as long as the temperature outside isn’t below 32° F / 0° C, if not 20° F / -7° C. However, if the temperature is right, there are three common signs of frozen pipes.

Water Runs Slow Or Not At All

The first sign of frozen pipes is that water runs slowly or not at all. Your pipes may be frozen if your sink faucets, toilets, and showers run really slowly, are extremely cold, have ice crystals, or stop working completely.

Frost On Pipes

The second sign of frozen pipes is frost on or around your pipes. For pipes you can see, they have likely frozen or are at risk of freezing if they have a layer of frost on them. If you can’t see your pipes, but it’s below freezing and the water isn’t running, it’s safe to assume the pipe is frozen.

Smelly Drains

In some cases, the third sign of frozen pipes are smells coming up through drains. This isn’t a guaranteed symptom of frozen pipes, but you should be concerned if you have other signs of frozen pipes.

What To Do If Your Pipes Freeze?

You may have frozen pipes if faucets or water lines do not work at all, water pressure is unusually low, or only a small amount of water trickles out. If you can see the pipes, they may be covered in frost as well.

Use these methods to thaw your frozen pipes:

  • Open the faucet to allow water to flow. Even a slow trickle can help thaw frozen pipes.
  • Try to warm the pipes by wrapping pipes in towels soaked in warm water or using a heating pad or hair dryer. Never try to thaw your pipes with a blowtorch or open flame.
  • Check all faucets to see if other pipes are frozen. If one pipe has frozen, it’s likely others could freeze too.
  • Continue to warm pipes until water flows at normal pressure.
  • If you cannot find the frozen pipes or the frozen pipes are not accessible, contact a professional plumber immediately.

For more tips, review our guide to thawing frozen pipes.

After thawing your pipes, you may consider calling a plumber for a complete evaluation to ensure pipes don’t freeze again. If you think your water meter has frozen, do not try to thaw it yourself. Instead, contact a professional plumber immediately.

What To Do If Your Pipes Burst?

Pipes usually burst between the main water supply line and the frozen section which can lead to significant water damage, especially if the water flows for a significant time.

  • Turn off the main water supply line into your house to limit further damage.
  • Be aware of the risk of electric shock when standing in or around water.
  • Take photos of the area and inventory property and possessions damaged for your insurance claim.
  • Contact a professional plumber or disaster mitigation expert to assess the damage and begin the restoration process.

If you have any questions about how your water system works or need help with these winterizing tips, contact a professional plumber. A little preventative maintenance can save you in the long run.

Get a Free Estimate on Water Damage Restoration

If you have water damage from a burst pipe, Restoration Local will connect you with a local contractor to repair the damage. Choose a local water damage company now or call 1-888-443-3110 for a free estimate from our on-call contractor in your area.

Image provided by slgckgc / Flickr

Author: Jeff Rooks

Jeff Rooks writes restoration content that helps homeowners restore their lives after a disaster or accident. Most days, you can find him cycling through Tampa. He also enjoys exploring new and delicious food and beverages around the world.

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