Prep Your Pipes For Freezing WeatherIf you live in a region that experiences extreme cold, you are probably familiar with the threat of bursting pipes. Here in South Carolina though, builders and homeowners aren’t as conscious of the damage freezing temperatures can have on our pipes. As a result, builders may lay pipe in vulnerable unheated areas of a home, and homeowners don’t know what to look for, or that there is any threat at all. Repairing burst pipes can be expensive, and will probably mean shutting down your home’s water supply completely. That’s why I have put together a quick guide to freeze-guarding your pipes for my Northern and Southern friends alike.

When should I be worried about freezing pipes?

Just because temperatures reach 32 degrees F doesn’t mean your pipes are starting to freeze. Before water in your pipes freezes it super-cools. This usually happens at a few degrees below freezing. It’s around 20 degrees F that you need to be wary. This is the temperature that water in a pipe will begin to ice. You should note that it isn’t ice forming outside of a pipe that causes it to burst, but the water inside a pipe that freezes and expands. Think of a can of soda that you left in the freezer. As the liquid freezes it takes up more space and the container can no longer hold the pressure. This causes the burst.

So how do I protect my pipes? Here are a few tips to keep your water flowing this winter.

  • Don’t turn off your heat – If you are making a visit to grandma’s house this holiday, resist the urge to turn your heat off completely. Keeping your home warmer than the freezing temperatures outside will keep your pipes warmer too.
  • Leave a faucet running – letting your faucets drip allows relief for pressure built up in your pipes. Think of this like poking a hole in your soda can before you stick it in the freezer.
  • Seal cold air openings – inspect any areas like pipes or cable lines for openings to the outdoors. Also check your attic and crawl space for openings. Plugging these holes up will keep out the cold air – a major cause of freezing pipes. 
  • Leave cabinets open – leaving your cabinets open allows warm air from your house to circulate and reach vulnerable pipes.
  • Insulate pipes in attic and crawl space – these are two places that are usually unheated, and need to be well insulated against the freezing temperatures. You can use fiberglass insulation sleeves around exposed areas of pipe.
  • Drain exterior pipes – one way to protect pipes from bursting is to remove the water completely. No water – no ice. This is recommended for any outdoor pipes.

If you turn your faucet on and no water is coming out, it probably means your pipes are frozen. If freezing occurs, shut off the water supply to your house and open your faucets to allow pressure to escape. You can attempt to unfreeze pipes by using heating cables or rubbing pipes with warm damp rags. Never use an open flame to thaw pipes, and if in doubt contact a plumber.

Hopefully with the help of these tips your home will be burst-free this winter. It’s recommended you take some of these precautions before freezing temperatures are in the forecast. That way you’ll be prepared and can rest easy knowing your pipes are protected.

This article was written by Amanda Hill, a contributor to the resource center at CIS, where she talks about DIY and home improvement projects. Follow Amanda on Twitter @AmandaBlogsPVC.