Frozen pipes aren't just an inconvenience. An average of a quarter-million families have their homes damaged and their lives disrupted each winter...all because of water pipes that freeze.
An eighth-inch (three millimeter) crack in a pipe can spew up to 250 gallons (946 liters) of water a day, wrecking floors, furniture, and personal property. Both plastic (PVC) and copper pipes may burst.
Before the Cold Hits...
INSULATE pipes in crawl spaces and attics. These exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing. Remember: The more insulation you use, the better protected your pipes will be.
HEAT TAPE or thermostatically-controlled heat cables can be used to wrap pipes. Be sure to use products approved by an independent testing organization, such as Underwrites Laboratories, Inc., and only for the use intended (exterior or interior). Closely follow all manufacturer's installation and operating instructions.
SEAL leaks that allow cold air inside, near where pipes are located. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents and pipes. Use caulk or insulation to keep the cold out and the heat in. With severe wind chill, a tiny opening can let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze.
DISCONNECT garden hoses and, if practical, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. This reduces the chance of freezing in the short span of pipe just inside the house.
When the Mercury Drops...
A TRICKLE of hot and cold water might be all it takes to keep your pipes from freezing. Let warm water drip overnight, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall.
OPEN cabinet doors to allow heat to get to uninsulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.
If You're Away...
SET the thermostat no lower than 55 (12 degrees Celsius).
ASK a friend or neighbor to check your house daily to make sure it's warm enough to prevent freezing, or
SHUT OFF and drain the water system. Be aware that if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it will be deactivated when you shut off the water.
If Your Pipes Freeze...
DON'T TAKE CHANCES. If you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out, leave the faucets turned on and call a plumber. If you detect that your water pipes have frozen and burst, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve in the house; leave the water faucets turned on. (Make sure everyone in your family knows where the water shut-off valve is and how to open and close it.)
NEVER try to thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame. Water damage is preferable to fire damage. You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe with the warm air from a hair dryer. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe.
DO NOT use electrical appliances in areas of standing water because you could be electrocuted.