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July 24, 2012

Preventing and Treating Frozen Pipes

By John Ward
Applewood Plumbing, Heating & Electric

Learn how to prevent frozen pipes.Winter is just around the corner. Are your pipes safe? Learn these tips on how to prevent frozen pipes.

Frozen pipes can create a huge mess – and expense. Last year, Applewood repaired hundreds of broken frozen pipes during the winter months with average repair costs at nearly $900 a call. The associated costs of property damage increases this loss even higher. But frozen pipes can be avoided with a little preventive maintenance. And if a pipe does freeze, you may be able to keep it from bursting if you act quickly.

Before the real deep freeze of winter sets in, here are tips for preventing frozen pipes and dealing with pipes that do freeze.

How to prevent frozen water pipes:

  • Pipes that have frozen in the past are obvious candidates for special attention. So are outside hose connections, indoor pipes close to an outside wall, pipes in a cold part of your house and pipes exposed to the cold from below – a crawl space under your house, for example. Make sure all these pipes are protected from the cold.
  • Insulate areas where vulnerable pipes are located. But keep in mind insulation alone won’t prevent pipes from freezing if they’re too exposed to the elements or the insulation is inadequate.
  • When insulation isn’t enough, consider pipe wrappings embedded with electrical coils (heat tape) that provide an outside source of heat. But they won’t work if you forget to plug them in when a cold front hits or if there’s a power outage, which can occur during severe weather. So be sure to use the kind with a built in thermostat so you can keep them plugged in all winter.
  • Remove hoses from outside yard faucets. The faucets can’t drain properly with a hose attached and will freeze and break if the hose is left attached
  • During severe cold weather, resist the urge to lower your thermostat to save money while you are gone for the day. The dollar or so you save could cost you thousands of dollars in property damage caused by frozen burst water pipes. Instead, turn your heat up a bit and open all the doors to interior rooms to allow the heat to circulate throughout your home. Next open the doors to kitchen and bathroom cabinets under your sinks so heat from the room will help warm the pipes.
  • Running water doesn’t freeze very readily. During severe cold weather, keep a stream of water trickling out of faucets or spouts attached to vulnerable pipes.
  • If you have a sprinkler system, drain all outdoor pipes and turn off the water supply to the system. A contractor can perform this work for you and blow out the sprinkler-system pipes with air if you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself.
  • Know where your main water emergency shut-off valve is located. Knowing where this valve is located and how to use it to shut off the water to your home, can save you untold property damage and grief if a pipe should freeze and burst in your home. If you are unsure of where this valve is or how to use it contact us and we will tag it for you and teach you how it works.

Winterizing your home or cabin if you’ll be away for an extended time

Colorado is perfect for mountain get-away abodes, but that also poses some challenges to ensure your home or retreat is winterized properly. For those times when you’ll be away for an extended time try these tips that work in the city or in rural areas:

  • Turn off the water supply at the main shutoff valve by the street. You may have to have your water utility do this for you.
  • Remove garden hoses from outside faucets and open these faucets to drain them.
  • Drain the water heater. Turn off the pilot light on gas water heaters and be sure to turn off the electricity to electric water heaters before you drain them.
  • Use an air compressor to blow any trapped water from the water pipes. A contractor can help with this if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself. Open all faucets and leave them open. This will help keep condensation from freezing and bursting the water lines.
  • Flush all toilets (to empty the tank) and every faucet (to drain water from pipes) in the home, including outdoor faucets.
  • Empty all toilet bowls by siphoning or bailing and sponging. Pour a mixture of food grade antifreeze and water into all toilet bowls and traps of all sinks, showers and bathtubs. Don’t drain these traps. The water in them keeps sewer gases out of your house.
  • If your water supply is from a well, switch off the pump and drain it, along with the above-ground pump lines and the tank.

What to do if a pipe freezes

  • To prevent a frozen pipe from bursting, open the faucet it supplies with water. Then add heat to the area where the pipe is located. Some times you can defrost a frozen pipe with an electric hair dryer. For safety, be sure the dryer is grounded and never hold the pipe while operating an electrical appliance.
  • Turn off the water supply to that line. If you use a boiler for heating, it must have a continual water supply to operate; so don’t turn off the main household supply, just the valve leading to the frozen line. If you’re unsure how to do this call a contractor.
  • If a pipe does burst, immediately turn off the water to your home. Every home has a main water shut off valve. Once you shut off this valve it will stop incoming water from causing additional damage to your property.
  • Know where your main water emergency shut-off valve is located. Knowing where this valve is located and how to use it to shut off the water to your home, can save you untold property damage and grief if a pipe should freeze and burst in your home. If you are unsure of where this valve is or how to use it contact us and we will tag it for you and teach you how it works.

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