We have some warm wet weather today, but tonight it is going to be back to freezing temperatures. The water in plumbing pipes can freeze if the pipes are exposed to frigid air. At the very least, a frozen pipe mean you get no water from that line. At the very worst, the pipe can burst. You’d be surprised how much water that can shoot out a tiny split in a pipe, and the distance and speed at which it travels. Before you read any further, ask yourself if you know where the main shut-off valve is for the water supply to your house. If you don’t, find out as soon as you finish reading this article.
Reducing the Risk
You can lessen the risk of frozen pipes by wrapping exposed pipes with foam insulators or heating cables, and turning off and draining the pipes to outdoor faucets. When temperatures plummet, take these additional emergency precautions:
- Let interior faucets drip steadily, because moving water doesn’t freeze as readily as standing water. Leaving the faucet open slightly also prevents water from building up pressure between a frozen area and the faucet. That advice applies doubly if the pipe is on an exterior north-facing wall, in a poorly insulated home or in an unheated room. It applies quadruply if you live in the South where the water supply pipe into the house is above ground.
- Leave the door of the cabinet under the sink open if the sink is on an exterior wall, and keep heat flowing to that room.
- Don’t lower the thermostat below 55°F when you’re away. Warmer than 55°F is better if your pipes are in vulnerable north-facing walls.
If a Pipe Freezes
If you turn on the faucet and nothing comes out, you have a frozen water inside a supply pipe. Act fast, before it bursts. Leave the faucet open and then pinpoint as accurately as possible where the freeze is: it’s somewhere between the faucet that doesn’t work and the nearest one that does work that is on the same supply pipe. If it’s inside a wall, point a heat lamp or space heater at the wall, keeping it far enough away you don’t damage the wall. If the pipe is exposed, use a heat gun on a low setting or a blow dryer on a high setting to warm the pipe. Move the dryer or heat gun back and forth across the pipe. If you don’t have a blow dryer or heat lamp, wrap the pipe with a towel and pour boiling water over the towel. Repeat until water flows through the pipe.
If a Pipe Bursts
If a pipe does burst, move fast. Immediately turn off the water supply to the house and then open faucets between the main shut-off and the burst pipe to drain any water remaining in the supply line before it reaches the hole in the pipe. Replace the burst section of pipe or call a plumber to handle the job.
Iced-up Gas Meter
If you heat your house with natural gas, the gas meter outside your house has a regulator that prevents high-pressure gas from entering your home. Ice and snow can obstruct the vents on the regulator, causing it to malfunction. Check the meter after any storm and gently clear away snow. If it’s covered in ice, don’t try to chip it off, which could damage the meter and cause a gas leak. Instead, call your gas utility company.