This is a HOT topic right now, “how to prevent your pipes from freezing”. The first thing to remember is that your home should be plumbed in a way that prevents your pipes from freezing in the first place, so ultimately the best solution is always to re-pipe or relocate your pipes to prevent them from freezing. Of course that is usually also the most expensive option, so let’s go over some things that you can do that won’t be so damaging to your pocketbook.
There are many different situations that will expose your pipes to the possibility of freezing. The most common situation is when your water pipes are located along an exterior wall. If this is the case, and you have the option to keep your cabinet doors open, I suggest opening the doors to allow the heat from the room to assist in keeping the pipes warm. If that solution isn’t enough to warm your pipes sufficiently, then I suggest putting a small space heater in that area as well to direct more heat toward the pipes. Please remember, though, to never leave a space heater unattended – safety is our first concern.
If your pipes are in a crawl space or a basement that is not heated, then installing a heat tape on the pipes can help keep them warm in days that are as cold as we are currently seeing. There are many types of heat tape and most are very simple and plug into a normal outlet. The most basic tapes heat once they are plugged in, so I would recommend upgrading to a heat tape that is a little more automatic and controllable. There are heat tapes on the market that will only turn on when the temperature drops below a certain level. The benefit of this type of heat tape is that you are not wasting as much energy and they are fairly dummy-proof because they turn themselves on and off.
The toughest problem is when you have pipes that are not even on an outside wall or in an unheated area but rather they are just in a spot in the house that is allowing a draft into a joist space. We have seen this many times and it is usually the result of a poor insulation job at an outside wall when the home was built. In this situation, the only and best solution is to expose that area of draft and insulate it as soon as possible.
If you have any of the above situations you can also leave your water running at the area of concern. Running water can’t freeze. If your faucet is a two handle faucet make sure you have both the hot and the cold on just a trickle. If you have a single handle faucet then make sure that the handle is positioned so that both the hot and cold side are running and, again, just a trickle. The downsides to leaving your water running are obvious. You are wasting water, and if you have a slow drain you are also taking a chance of the drain overflowing. Both are not desirable.
Lastly, remember that frozen pipes do not leak. They are frozen, so the plug of ice may have split the pipe but as long as it remains frozen you wont even know it. That being said, when you have a line that you know is frozen. First make sure you know where to shut off the water for the house before you attempt to thaw it. That way, in the event it starts to leak, you can limit the damage. Our phones here at John Baethke and Son Plumbing don’t ring so much when the temperature drops to below zero as much as they do when the temperature rises and those frozen and split pipes start to leak.
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