How you can protect your plumbing as temperatures dip into single digits

The potential for frozen pipes increases dramatically when temperatures drop below freezing for an extended time. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

The potential for frozen pipes increases dramatically when temperatures drop below freezing for an extended time.

Mountain plumbers say that’s when their call volumes can increase 10-fold.

They say a five-minute walk around your home looking for potential problems can mean the difference between weathering the cold snap with no problems and a repair bill in the thousands.

With falling temperatures, Blue Plant Plumbing’s lead technician Georg Efird doesn't leave empty, vacant properties to chance.

“It has to be potable to put in the plumbing system,” said Efird.

He said a vacant apartment or empty vacation home can be winterized with a food grade antifreeze, safe for the water supply.

“Get all of the water out of the supply system and all of the water in the drainage system replaced with non-freezable material” said Efird.

You can winterize anything with water flowing through it, from your hot water heater to the sink and the toilet

“We're going to pour it in the back of the tank and completely submerge all of the components,” Efird said.

But for those who can't escape to warmer temps, you can still protect your plumbing. But be warned, insulated material around the pipes under your home doesn't mean your pipes are protected.

“This is doing absolutely nothing to protect from the cold weather, damaging this pipe,” said Efird.

The ambient temperature inside a crawl space should remain constant, around 60 degrees, but only if its secured.

“If this door were to be left cracked, we would be out here on a frozen water call,” said Efird.

If you can, put weather stripping on the doors to the crawl space to further prevent chilling drafts.

And don't forget the outside faucet. Blue Planet Plumbing replaces nearly 1,100 outside faucets annually. They recommend a frost free hose faucet.

“This device as you see right here, after every operation it's designed to drain all of the excess water out of the spigot. So, when you're closing the valve handle, it's actually closing inside the building on the heated side of the wall” said Efird.

Another tip, the American Red Cross recommends keeping your home the same temperature day and night to reduce the risk of the pipes under your home having the chance to freeze.

The American Red Cross also recommends the following to protect your pipes:

  • Drain water from swimming pool 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 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 any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
  • Add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas.
  • Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the garage and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. 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 can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes – even a quarter-inch of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.
  • Consider relocating exposed pipes to provide increased protection from freezing.

How to prevent frozen pipes

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • 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.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature 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.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

How to thaw frozen pipes

  • If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely places for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials) or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible or if you can not thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
  • Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.
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