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Prevent Frozen Pipes From Damaging Your Home

Bust PipeOne of the biggest causes of water damage in the winter months is freezing pipes that burst due to pressure build up.  When water freezes, it expands.  This expansion can cause pipes to burst because pressure behind it builds up.  Surprisingly, this happens just as often if not more in southern states where homes aren’t designed for subfreezing temperatures.  However, when temperatures drop below freezing – especially suddenly or quickly – all areas are subject to frozen pipes.  When pipes do freeze and burst, the damage can be very extensive and very expensive to repair and clean up.

There are some things you can do to help avoid this costly damage.

**Insulate exterior pipes and any pipes you have access to.  Pipes that are outdoors or in colder areas of your home are most vulnerable.  You can buy pipe insulation to protect the pipes you can reach (outdoor pipes, pipes in attics, pipes under sinks or in closets, etc.).  Pipe insulation is relatively cheap and can be bought at most hardware stores.  If you’re going to insulate an exposed pipe, though, make sure to insulate all of it since leaving part of a pipe without insulation actually makes it more vulnerable.

**Home insulation.  In addition, having your home well insulated – not just the pipes – is a good idea.  During winter months, you want to keep warm air in and cold air out.  This includes sealing cracks or holes on exterior walls that may allow cold air in and warm air out.  Along those same lines, keep doors closed during winter months.  If you have an attached garage, keep it closed as much as possible as well.  Many people don’t associate the garage door to keeping their house warm, but keeping it closed can make a big difference.

**Pay attention to weather reports and prepare for subfreezing temps or sudden temperature drops below freezing.  When temperatures dip below freezing, keep your home warm.  Keep your house a few degrees warmer than normal and keep the warm air flowing throughout the house.  Open kitchen cupboards and bathroom cabinets to expose pipes to warmer air.  You can even use a fan to circulate air around the house to cooler areas.  Don’t forget utility sinks in basements.  Basements and crawl spaces are usually the coldest area of the house.  It wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep an electric heater in that area to keep it warm during times it is super cold.  (Some people are put off by electric heaters because they can cause fires, but most are now equipped to turn off on their own if they are knocked over.)  Although heat rises, attics are usually cold during winter months, too, because they are blocked off.  Open up attic doors to allow air to circulate there.

**Allow water taps to drip when temps drop quickly or to very cold temps.  Allowing water to flow – even slowly – through the pipes will keep the pressure from backing up – which is essentially what causes pipes to break.   Slow-moving water can still freeze, but it’s less likely to than water that is still.  Make sure to allow both the cold and hot water taps to drip as both are vulnerable to freezing temperatures.

**If you are going on vacation or leaving your home for an extended period of time, keep your house warm and water off.  Leave your furnace set to at least 60*F when leaving town in the winter months.  Open interior doors and cupboards as stated above to allow air to circulate.  To turn water off, shut off main valve and all water fixtures in the house.  This will drain the system so only air will fill the pipes while you are gone.  This can also be done if you expect a sudden temperature drop overnight or while you are working.

Unfortunately, all the preparation in the world may not prevent a pipe from freezing, often due to loss of power or extremely cold temperatures in conjunction with extremely cold wind and wind chills.  If you turn on the water and nothing comes out or there is only a slow stream of water, it is likely your pipe has frozen.  It is very important at this point to keep the water faucet ON to allow no pressure to build up so the pipe does not burst.  You can attempt to thaw a pipe yourself using nothing stronger than a hair dryer on the pipe.  If you do this, start toward the faucet and work away from it.  Do not hold the hair dryer too close to the pipe or if there is standing or dripping water.  It may not need to be said, but electrocution is a much worse issue than bursting pipes.  Sometimes wrapping pipes in warm towels or rags is enough to warm up pipes enough to thaw them.  (Warm up rags and/or towels in dryer before applying.)  If you are unable to determine which pipe has frozen, unable to reach the pipe or not comfortable trying, call a plumber to help.

If you suspect or know a pipe has burst, you want to shut off the main water valve to your home immediately to avoid further damage.  As with any standing water or flooding issues, be aware of and/or take precaution against electrocution.  Call a water restoration specialist to assess and fix the damaged pipe and water damaged area.  Be sure to take inventory of damaged items for your insurance company if your coverage includes this type of damage.

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