Prevent frozen pipes

Owning a home comes with many joys and responsibilities. Among those responsibilities is protecting your home from winter's harsh elements. We’re fortunate that extremely low temperatures are relatively rare in Prescott, Arizona, but pipes still freeze with the overnight low temps! When water freezes inside a pipe, the ice expands, causing the pipe to burst and potentially leading to costly water damage in your home. Here are some tips to help you to prevent the nightmare of frozen and broken water lines.

Prevent Frozen Hose Bibs

Outdoor faucets, or “hose bibs”, are common victims of freezing temperatures. A hose bib usually has a long, shaft-like pipe inside the wall where it’s mounted.  When a hose is left connected to an outdoor faucet it prevents water from siphoning out of the pipe.  When the trapped water freezes and expands, it will cause the pipe to break.  The next time the faucet is turned on, water will pour into the wall of the home.  I cannot stress this enough:  It is essential to remove hoses any time temperatures will drop below 32 degrees. 

Wrap Insulation or Heat Tape

You can prevent freezing of exposed exterior pipes, such as water lines running from a water heater, pipes under a house, or irrigation lines, by adding pipe wrap insulation or heat tape. Insulation and heat tape can be purchased at the local hardware store and can usually be installed by the homeowner.

Preventive Steps Inside Your House

During single digit temperatures, there are also preventive things you can do on the inside of your home.  Before you go to bed at night open the cupboard doors under any sinks that are on exterior walls.  The heat from the room will keep the pipes warmer.  Let the water drip from bathroom or kitchen faucets that are located on an exterior wall.  The small drip will circulate the water in the pipes and help to prevent freezing.  Washing machine lines are also susceptible to freezing during extreme temperatures.  One way to prevent damage is to do a load of laundry with warm water in the middle of the night.  It may be inconvenient, but this strategy keeps the water circulating and will circumvent damage.

Going Out Of Town, Don't Turn Off the Heat

If your house will be empty for a couple of days during a brutal freeze, do not turn down the thermostat.  It may seem wasteful, but the damage from a broken pipe will cost significantly more than heating an empty house for a couple of days.  If the house is going to be empty for a week or two during normal winter temperatures, completely shut off the water to the home and set the thermostat at 50 degrees.   You should have your plumbing professionally winterized if the home will be vacant for a more extended period of time.  (Winterizing = The plumber will blow all of the water out of the pipes with a compressor and add antifreeze to fixtures with drains).

If You Do Have a Leak

When water is leaking, the critical goal is to stop the leak!  So, the first thing to know is the location of the water shut-off valve for your house.  (It may be near the water meter, the well, or in the garage.)  Many times a special tool is required to shut the water off.  Take a picture of your shut-off valve and enlist the help of the hardware clerk to find the appropriate tool. It may cost $10, but the money you’ll save if you should ever need that tool is well worth it.

If your precautionary efforts fail and the pipes under a sink become frozen, you can place a space heater near the open cabinet to warm the water lines.  Another method is to use a blow dryer to thaw frozen pipes.  If a drainpipe is frozen, pour table salt down the line to melt the ice.

When water is involved, damage to your home can be extensive and costly.  Hopefully, these suggestions will help you to prevent damage to your home during harsh freezing temperatures.