Precautions to Prevent Frozen Water Lines

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Tips for Keeping Pipes from Freezing

Every winter, many homeowners face the expense and inconvenience of frozen water pipes. However, you can cross that issue off your list of winter worries by taking a few precautions.

Allow Steady Water Flow
In some places, you're advised to leave a steady drip or pencil-lead thin stream of water flowing from a bathroom faucet during the worst of a cold spell.

Disconnect & Drain Outdoor Hoses
Detaching the hose allows water to drain from the pipe. Otherwise, one hard, overnight freeze can burst either the faucet or the connecting pipe.

Find the Master Shutoff
It may be near the water heater or the washing machine. More likely it's where the water line comes into your house from the street. If a pipe bursts anywhere in the house, this valve turns it off. Find it now and paint it a bright color or hang a tag on it. Be sure everyone in the family knows where it is and what it does.

Insulate Pipes or Faucets in Unheated Areas
If you have pipelines in an unheated garage or a crawl space under the house, wrap the water pipes before temperatures plummet. Hardware or building supply stores will have good pipe-wrapping materials available.

Seal off Access Doors, Air Vents & Cracks
Repair broken basement windows. Winter winds whistling through overlooked openings can quickly freeze exposed water pipes. But don't plug the air vents your furnace or water heater needs for good combustion.

Thawing Frozen Pipes

What if you wake up one day to find the pipes are frozen anyway? View the list of tips to follow if your pipes freeze.

Keep the Plumber's Telephone Number Handy
Write down your plumber's number now before you need it in an emergency. Make sure to keep it in an easy-to-find location.

Take Care when Thawing Pipes
If you think you know where the freeze-up occurred and want to try thawing it yourself, do not, under any circumstances, use a torch with an open flame. The whole house could catch fire. Also, overheating a single spot can burst the pipe, and heating a soldered joint could allow it to leak or come completely apart.

Use a Hair Dryer
The easiest tool for thawing pipes is probably a hair dryer with a low-heat setting. Wave the warm air back and forth along the pipe; do not focus on one spot. If you don't have a hair dryer, you can wrap the frozen section with rags or towels and pour hot water over them. It's messy, but it works.

When Thawing, Prepare for Leaks
Even if it isn't leaking, the pipe may already be broken. The frozen water prevents the pipe from leaking. However, water can come gushing out when you thaw the pipe. Be ready to run for the master shutoff valve if necessary.