January 2018 Blog

Protecting Your Pipes This Winter

Happy January! For those of you who were hoping we’d get through winter without bitterly cold temps, the last week or so has been your reminder of life in the Northeast. While most homeowners may feel secure that the most damage the frigid weather will do is to their heating bill, others should be concerned about freezing and bursting pipes.  If you have pipes located on exterior walls, in attics, crawl spaces or in basements, you have good reason to be concerned. Galvanized steel and copper pipes are the most vulnerable to freezing, most plumbers will agree that pipes can freeze once temperatures outside reach 20 degrees. And yes, it can, quite literally, happen overnight!

Who Should Be Concerned?

People living in older homes and mobile homes should make sure that their water lines are protected by the proper amount of insulation. If you know your walls aren’t properly insulated, there are ways you can protect your pipes from freezing. Most hardware stores carry insulating coves that homeowners – and home renters – can place over their pipes to provide an extra layer of protection against frost.

Of course, most people know that running water takes longer to freeze. If you have a utility sink in your garage, or a laundry or bathroom with pipes running along the outer wall, you can turn the faucets on and allow water to run. It doesn’t have to be a heavy stream; a small, steady trickle will keep the water flowing and unfrozen.

If you have a portable heater, it might be worth the additional heating cost to place it in those areas that are more vulnerable to freezing.

How Do I Know If My Pipes Are Frozen?

It’s pretty easy to figure out. If you’re lucky, the indicator that your pipes have frozen is that, when you turn on your faucet, nothing comes out. If you’re not so lucky, your pipes might look like the image above. In that case, the only thing left to do is to call your plumber – and hope that this hasn’t happened on a weekend or holiday, when most plumbers’ rates rise meteorically!

If you think that your pipes may be in the process of freezing, you can use a hair dryer on the pipes to try to thaw things out, before you hurry to Home Depot, Allerdice, or Lowes for some protective pipe coverings. Under NO circumstances should homeowners use a blow torch to heat up your pipes. There are numerous cautionary tales about the foolhardiness of attempting to play plumber with your home’s pipes. It’s just penny-wise and pound foolish to do so.

When your favorite meteorologist indicates we’re going to have temperatures in the negative….believe them!   You may want to open the cabinets under your kitchen sink and the doors to your dishwasher so the ambient air circulates around the pipes.   You could also place a small heater in the general area of both so the air stays warmer. 

If you’re like me, you hate spending so much money on heat and electric, yet utility bills are a lot cheaper to pay for than frozen or pipes which have burst open

When Should I Be Concerned About My Pipes?

The obvious answer to this is: before you buy or build your home. The old adage, “forewarned is fore-armed,” works well in this instance. When you and your Realtor are looking at homes, pay attention to the locations of your pipes, bathrooms, and laundry areas. Are these areas well-insulated? Has the home – if it isn’t new construction – ever had an instance of frozen pipes or flooding? Make sure the house is properly insulated. If it is an older home, has foam insulation been blown into spaces that were previously un-insulated or less well insulated? If not, this should be addressed once you move in.  Are there pipes in a crawl space or tucked away in the dark recesses of that old dirt basement that you may be unaware of?

With new construction, of course, you have more control over where your piping is, or how much insulation is installed. That doesn’t mean, however, that you are automatically “insulated” from the possibility of frozen pipes. Plenty of new homes have had pipes freeze or burst.

Of course, the best thing you can do is check your pipes and your insulation before the mercury plummets. But, as we shiver through the next few days, weeks or even months, check your pipes often and be sure to take precautionary steps to ensure that you don’t come home to a house that looks like this!