Tips for Preventing Frozen Pipes


Every Winter, it happens.  The temperature outside drops, and an unfortunate person wakes up to a flooded basement, kitchen, or bathroom.  A burst pipe in one’s home can cause thousands of dollars in damage, in addition to a huge mess and loss of important documents, memorabilia, and keepsakes. 



If you are planning a trip over the colder winter months, it is so important that you remember to turn off your home’s main water valve while you’re gone.  Frozen pipes can happen at any time, and they can prove extremely costly to a homeowner, even when found and noticed very quickly.  Standing water in one’s home for a number of days during an absence is something to avoid at all costs, and that’s why it’s suggested that you simply turn off your home’s water valve any time you will be leaving for more than a day.


Although it may seem like there is little that can be done to prevent frozen pipes when the weather turns bitter cold, there are some signs you can look out for that may alert you that your pipes are at risk of freezing or are in the process of freezing.  The most important and most effective way of predicting a frozen pipe is a change in water pressure.  If a faucet or toilet is flowing at a lower pressure than normal, it’s likely a sign that your pipes are freezing or have already frozen.  If you notice this happening in your home, it’s important to try to thaw the pipe at risk with some of the tips offered below. 


You should know the risk level for frozen pipes within your own home.  For instance, older homes are often poorly insulated, leading to a much higher risk of burst water pipes.  This risk becomes even higher if the old home is situated over an uninsulated crawl space.  It is important to know what steps you can take to prevent frozen pipes, as well as what to do in the event of a frozen pipe within your home.


Wrap the Pipe


You can wrap any non-insulated pipes in insulation foam or heating tape to give them extra protection from the cold temperatures.  Both products are relatively inexpensive, especially when weighed against the potential costs of a burst pipe in your home.


If you find yourself in a situation where your pipes are already at risk of freezing, or if you notice a change in your water pressure, you will want to act quickly, and a trip to the hardware store to purchase insulation foam or heat tape is not in your best interest due to the time-sensitive nature of the situation.  In a case such as this, there are some quick actions you can take to prevent the pipe from freezing completely.  The goal is to cease any further freezing as quickly as possible, and then work on thawing any freezing that may have already occurred. 


Newspaper as Insulation


If you have no heat tape or insulation foam on hand, but have noticed a pipe in your home is freezing, wrapping your pipe in newspaper can be an adequate insulator in a pinch.  It can create a nice barrier between the cold temperatures and the pipe. 


Foam Board Insulation


Another adequate insulator when you are in a pinch is foam poster board for large areas that need extra insulation.  Placing the foam board around a section of pipes that are at-risk of freezing can be the difference between a frozen pipe and a thawed pipe.  While this is certainly not the recommended way to insulate your pipes, it is certainly worth a shot in a pinch.


Use a Hair Dryer


If you see a pipe freezing, grab a hair dryer and an extension cord and begin blowing hot air on the pipe of concern. 


Never, never, use a torch or open flame to thaw your pipes.  Even the smallest ember can ignite and smolder for days.  Many homes have burned to the ground as a result of this method of thawing frozen pipes; don’t let yours be the next statistic.  A hairdryer will get the job done just fine.


Use a Space Heater


If you notice that your pipes are freezing, plug in a space heater to begin raising the temperature in the area where the at-risk pipes are.  Remember, your goal is not to make the space comfortable and cozy, your goal is to raise the temperature above freezing.  As with the use of a space heater at any time, follow the recommended safety guidelines for your particular model, and keep the heater and cord away from anything that could ignite.


Open Cabinet Doors


If you find that the temperature is drastically colder under your sink than in your home, it’s not a bad idea to open the cabinet doors to allow the temperature around the pipes to rise, especially on those particularly cold nights.  This simple act can prevent a flooded kitchen or bathroom.


Turn Up the Heat


If you are at-risk for frozen pipes, especially if you live in an older home with poor insulation, it’s a good idea to turn up your thermostat during the bitter cold.  A higher utility bill is certainly cheaper than the cost of a frozen pipe.


Keep Your Garage Door Closed


By keeping your garage door closed, you are allowing the temperature inside it to rise more than the outside temperature, which can prevent any pipes around that area from freezing.  Pipes don’t need to be toasty warm to prevent freezing; they only need to maintain a temperature above freezing.


Check Your Heat Tape Annually


If you have insulated your pipes with heat tape or foam installation, it is imperative that you check your insulation once a year.  Make sure that the insulation you have installed isn’t peeling, falling off, or showing signs of damage in any way.  If you notice that there are some trouble spots with the insulation you have around your pipes, be sure to replace and repair them.


Take Necessary Precautions on Vulnerable Outdoor Faucets

The biggest risk every home has for a frozen pipe is within the outdoor faucets.  Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you have already disconnected your hoses from your outdoor faucet.  However, there is a bit more that you can do to protect those pipes in addition to disconnecting your hose.  Here’s a guide for safeguarding your outdoor faucets:

    1. If your home’s outdoor faucet is equipped with an indoor shut-off valve, shut it.
    2. Place a bucket under the drain cap and open the cap to begin draining the water.
    3. Go outside and turn on the faucet until it runs dry.
    4. Once the faucet is cleared, turn off the exterior faucet and close the drain cap inside the house.

Following these steps will ensure that your exterior faucet has no water in the sillcock or hose bibb.  If there is water in those places, it is likely to freeze, which will cause the change in water pressure that leads to busted pipes.


If your home is not equipped with an indoor shut-off valve, the best thing you can do to safeguard the faucet from freezing is to make sure that the faucet does not drip.  Even a slow drip can freeze, causing a blockage in the hose bib.


A frozen pipe can lead to thousands of dollars in damage to a home.  Knowing your home's risk level, as well as knowing what to do in the event that a pipe freezes in your home, can be invaluable information to have.  The more prepared you are, the better your chances are of preventing damage to your home's pipes at all.