Take care of your pipes during the freeze!
Georgians tend to smile to themselves when they hear weather reports about the tundra-like conditions in the rest of the country at this time of the year. We’re used to “winters” where we may wear a jacket with our flip-flops in early December, or maybe put on a pair of boots while rocking shorts in January. However, there are those days when the barometer drops and we’re threatened with very cold temperatures, snow, or freezing rain, and we realize we’re not immune to Old Man Winter’s icy grip! Our homes are sometimes just as unprepared as we are when this weather happens and the path of least resistance, which is poorly insulated or exposed pipe, results in ruptured waterlines that can cause damage to our homes, foundations, decking, and landscaping. During this time of year, you want to pay particular attention to outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or even your kitchen cabinets. Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation are also subject to freezing. According to the Insurance Information Institute, damage from burst pipes is the second most common cause of home insurance claims, so protecting those pipes during the polar plunge cannot be taken too lightly! Here are some great tips from the American Red Cross, an organization used to helping others during times of need.
Before the freeze:
Drain water from swimming pools and water sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer’s or installer’s directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is environmentally harmful, and is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.
Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated.
Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a “pipe sleeve” or installing UL-listed “heat tape,” “heat cable,” or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspaper or towels can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes – even ¼” of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.
During the freeze:
Know where your main shut-off valve is located incase you need to get to it if something dire happens!
Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing. True, you’re wasting a bit of water, but better the slight waste than the cost of water damage to your home!
Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
Thawing out needs to be done carefully. You might have escaped a burst pipe, but you’re not completely out of the woods yet! If you are unable to locate the frozen area,or if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you can not thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
If you turn on your tap during the cold weather and just a thin trickle comes out, you might suspect some degree of freezing in the pipes. Likely places are where pipes enter your home from exterior walls. Leave cabinet doors open so heat can pass through, set thermostat to 68 degrees and above, use foam or cardboard to block out cold air and leave a trickle of water running from a faucet.
Keep the pipe open – again, running water prevents freezing! As the ice within the pipe thaws, you’ll notice the flow through the pipes becomes stronger.
Carefully apply a bit of heat to the pipe with something like a blow dryer or with warmed towels. DO NOT use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.