Preventing Burst Pipe Water Damage from Cold Weather
As winter sets in and temperatures plummet, homeowners face a myriad of challenges, not the least of which is the risk of water pipes bursting. Burst pipes can cause significant damage to your home, resulting in costly repairs and a great deal of stress. Fortunately, with proper knowledge and preparation, you can significantly reduce the risk of this happening. Here’s a guide on how to prevent burst pipe water damage in cold weather.
Understanding the Risk
Water expands as it freezes, and this expansion exerts tremendous pressure on whatever contains it, including pipes. No matter how strong, pipes (whether made of plastic or metal) can burst under this pressure. The most at-risk pipes are those exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, and water sprinkler lines. Pipes in unheated interior areas like basements, attics, and garages, and pipes that run against exterior walls with little or no insulation are also susceptible.
Preparation Before the Cold Hits
- Insulate Pipes: The most effective way to prevent pipes from freezing is by insulating them. Use foam pipe insulation or heating tape to cover exposed pipes, paying special attention to those in unheated areas.
- Seal Leaks: Check around the home for any leaks that allow cold air inside, especially where pipes are located. Use caulk or insulation to keep the cold out and the heat in.
- Outdoor Pipes: Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed; antifreeze is environmentally harmful and dangerous to humans and pets.
- Hose Bibs: Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs, open the outside hose bibs to let water drain, and keep the outside valve open so that any remaining water in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
Steps During Cold Weather
- Keep the Heat On: Keep your home heated to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit, even if you are leaving for an extended period. The heating cost is significantly less than the cost of repairing burst pipes and water damage.
- Open Cabinet Doors: Pipes are often located in cabinets. When the temperatures drop, keep these cabinet doors open to allow warm air to circulate around the pipes.
- Let the Faucets Drip: Allowing the faucet to be open slightly (drip) can prevent the pressure from building up. The running water, even a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.
- Apply Heating Tape: For pipes that are easily accessible, use electrical heating tape to keep them warm.
- Seal up Cracks and Holes: Seal gaps where the pipes run through walls or floors, especially where the hole is letting in cold air.
What to Do If Pipes Freeze
- Shut Off Water: If you suspect a pipe has frozen, shut off the water at the main valve.
- Apply Gentle Heat: Use a hairdryer, heating pad, or towels soaked in hot water to thaw the frozen section. Never use an open flame.
- Call a Plumber: If you cannot thaw the pipe or locate the frozen area, call a professional plumber.
Long-Term Prevention Strategies
- Improve Insulation: Add insulation to attics, basements, and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in those areas.
- Install Pipe Sleeves: Use specific products designed to insulate water pipes like a “pipe sleeve” or installing UL-listed “heat tape,” “heat cable,” or similar materials on exposed water pipes.
- Monitor Freezing Predictions: Pay attention to weather forecasts and take preventive actions if a freeze is expected.
- Regular Maintenance: Regularly check for leaks, cracks, and general wear and tear. Address issues promptly to avoid major problems when the temperature drops.
In Case of Burst Pipes
- Shut Off Water and Electricity: Immediately shut off the main water supply. If the burst pipe is near electrical appliances, turn off the electricity at the main breaker.
- Document Damage: Take pictures of the damage for insurance purposes.
- Call Your Insurance: Contact your homeowner’s insurance company to report the incident and understand your coverage.
- Professional Cleanup: Hiring professionals for water damage restoration is crucial to prevent mold, mildew, and further damage.
Preventing burst pipes and the resulting water damage in cold weather is largely about preparation and maintenance. By taking the necessary steps before and during winter, you can safeguard your home against the potentially devastating and costly effects of burst pipes. Remember, prevention is always better than a cure, especially when it comes to protecting your home.