How to avoid frozen pipes this winter

You’ll want to keep your warmest coats out and pick up some logs for your fireplace this week, because this deep freeze isn’t going anywhere. But something you definitely don’t want to forget are your pipes, as meteorologists have said that homeowners should be on guard for possible freezing. Unfortunately, frozen pipes have already become a problem: Nearly all of the plumbers I contacted for this story — I called 10 from across the region — said they were busy.

But if you take certain precautions, you might just be able to avoid a hefty plumbing bill this winter. Here’s a list of plumber-approved tips on how to keep a pipe from freezing, spotting a frozen one, thawing it, and what to do if it bursts.

Preventing pipes from freezing

Keeping your heat on is a no-brainer solution, but it can get expensive. However, if you’re leaving the house for a few days, consider keeping the house at 50 degrees.

Letting your faucet drip if you’re worried about a pipe freezing is another way to relieve pressure, as pressure is what ultimately causes pipe bursts. Opening the cabinets underneath your bathroom sink is also a good way to keep them from getting too cold.

For pipes that are in extra-cold spots, using electrical heating tape to keep them warm is a good idea. You can also add extra insulation to pipes by fitting them with foam or rubber sleeves.

Spotting a frozen pipe

Your house is filled with water pipes, and while it’s not hard to figure out when you’re dealing with a frozen pipe, it can be tricky to figure out where the frozen section is. If you turn on a faucet and nothing comes out, you’re going to have to do a little detective work.

The first step should be to try all the other faucets in your house. If all the faucets in a room aren’t working, the freeze is likely in a split from the main pipe. If all the faucets on a floor aren’t working, the freeze is likely between where the first- and second-floor pipes separate. If all the faucets in your house aren’t working, then the freeze is probably near where the main pipe enters the house.

The frozen section of the pipe, if exposed, will likely have condensation over it. You’ll also be able to tell that it’s colder just from touching it.

Thawing a frozen pipe

Before thawing the frozen section of your pipe, you should open the faucet to relieve the water pressure that has been building and allow the water to escape once it thaws. You should also begin the thawing process close to the faucet and work your way down to the blockage. If melted water and ice get caught behind the blockage, the chance that the pipe will burst increases.

One of the easiest ways to thaw a frozen pipe is with a hair dryer. You can also use hot towels or a heat lamp to warm the pipe up. Never use an open flame.

What to do if a pipe bursts

Don’t panic. The first thing you should do is shut off the main water line into your property. This will prevent your house from flooding. The main water valve is usually near your water meter. After you’ve done that, call your plumber.

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