Fall maintenance is crucial to your overall home management plan. It might feel like the mild fall days are just beginning, but in actuality, winter is just around the corner and the time to prepare is now.
Frozen pipes can have a devastating impact on your home. According to State Farm, a quarter-million families have their homes ruined each year. The broken pipe itself is actually relatively minor, but the damage caused by the leaking water running through your walls and ceiling can mean a major reconstruction project, requiring replacement of drywall, ceilings and maybe even furniture and appliances. Avoid the thousands of dollars worth of potential damage by doing some preventative maintenance.
You should protect any pipe that’s in an unheated area, like a crawl-space, attic, or outside wall, with insulation. Pipes in attics, crawl spaces and outside walls are all vulnerable to freezing, especially if there are cracks or openings that allow cold, outside air to flow across the pipes. Seal cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations near water pipes with caulking to keep cold wind away from the pipes. Kitchen and bathroom cabinets can prevent the warm inside air from reaching the pipes under sinks and in adjacent outside walls. Keep cabinet doors open during cold spells to let the warm air circulate around the pipes.
Electric heating tapes and cables are among some of the preventative measures that can be installed to prevent pipe freezing. The tapes or cables run along the pipes and keep the water from freezing inside them. There are two types of tape and cable, one with a built-in thermostat which will turn heat on when needed, and the other without, which will need to be plugged in when the heat is needed.
There is also new innovative technology on the market that is easy to install (not requiring pipe cutting or electrical wiring) and a great pipe freezing prevention aid. A temperature controlled thermal convection powered hot water recirculation valve installed at the plumbing fixture at the end of the “at risk plumbing run” (pipes most likely to freeze), will allow water to flow from your water heater-through the existing hot water pipe in the “at risk plumbing run”-to the recirculation valve. From the recirculation valve the water will continue back to the water heater (for reheating)-through the cold water pipe in the “at risk plumbing run”. The system contains a sensor, which opens the valve only when the water temperature drops below the adjustable temperature setting. This open loop of water circulation keeps temped water circulating through the “at risk plumbing run” without wasting water.
The outside water line is the most vulnerable and prone to freezing. There doesn’t have to be snow outside for freezing conditions to be present. Anytime the temperature drops to 32 degrees or below, unprotected pipes could freeze. If the hose bib is not frost-free and is not shut off or covered or if the line was not drained properly when it was shut off, the sitting water can still freeze and potentially burst.
If you are away from the house for a long period of time, do not turn the heat off. Personally, It’s tempting to turn the heat way down in the interest of saving money, but a slightly higher heating bill is preferable to the massive damage caused by a burst pipe.
If you turn on the tap and no water comes out, leave the faucet on and call a plumber.
If a water pipe bursts, immediately turn off the water at the main shut-off valve. Take the time before you have an emergency, to familiarize yourself with your shut-off valve. Typically, it is near the water meter or where the main line enters the house.
Keep safety first, and never try to thaw frozen pipes with an open flame. This will damage the pipe and may even start a fire. You might be able to thaw frozen pipes with a hand-held hair dryer. Slowly apply heat, starting close to the faucet end of the pipe, with the faucet open and work toward the coldest section.