Protect your pipes from cold weather

Even though insurance agencies and home contractors often release statements this time of year alerting home owners to take precautions to protect their pipes from freezing, I’m sometimes stunned by some home owners’ lack of knowledge about the subject. If not taken seriously, extensive damage could occur in a home due to a frozen or ruptured pipe.

A common misconception that many have about cold weather’s effects on pipes is that the frozen water inside the pipe causes the rupture. However, it’s not the ice, per se, that makes a pipe burst; but rather the pressure that builds inside the pipe that makes it rupture. When a pipe freezes, excessive air pressure builds up between the ice blockage and a closed faucet.

Experts describe ice buildup in pipes, which can occur through contact with cooled air, as being more common than people know. In extreme weather situations, precautions should be taken to help prevent frozen and ruptured pipes. Besides temperature, wind chill is sometimes the culprit of freezing pipes; holes in walls or foundations can allow chilled air to come into contact with your home’s interior- including pipes. Depending on the pipe placement and weather conditions, pipes can freeze any time the temperature dips below freezing; however, extra precautions should be taken when the weather becomes extreme.

Common precautions used to prevent freezing and bursting pipes include insulating pipes, “the dripping faucet,” and “winterizing.” Some experts suggest that insulating pipes may prevent a frozen or ruptured pipe- but it is not a guarantee. Pipe insulation can vary by type and price; foam sleeves or fiberglass jackets are most commonly used. The materials in the sleeves and jackets insulate pipes from cold air much like the insulation in your home’s walls and attic insulates home’s interior from cold air.

In extreme weather, the “dripping faucet” is one of the most commonly used methods by home owners to prevent a busted pipe. The water drip may not stop a pipe from freezing; however, it can relieve some pressure from the system to prevent a pipe from rupturing in case freezing does occur.

“Winterizing” is a term used to describe the draining of water and pressure from the plumbing system. Experts recommend winterizing your home if you plan an extended winter trip, leaving your home vacant. Winterizing and de-winterizing your home can put additional stress on your home’s plumbing system and components, so hiring a plumber to perform this procedure is recommended.

Short overnight trips may not require you to winterize your home, however experts caution that lowering the thermostat overnight could put your pipes in jeopardy.

Pipes can still freeze or rupture even when you take precautions. If you have a frozen pipe- call your plumber. Opening faucets can reduce air pressure in the system so as to prevent a rupture. Your plumber should guide you on how to thaw the frozen pipe, since you should be cautious for obvious reasons. However, homeowners have often used hair dryers to lamps to thaw frozen pipes. Finding a frozen pipe can be tricky since pipes are often hidden inside walls and between floors. If a pipe does burst, close the main water valve immediately and call your plumber immediately.

Additional information about protecting your home from frozen or ruptured pipes can be obtained from your plumber and/or insurance agent.

by Dan Krell
© 2010

Comments are welcome. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

4 Replies to “Protect your pipes from cold weather”

  1. Too often we've forgotten to address the issue with our pipes in past winters, and we've had a few burst. Thanks for the insight!

  2. Sometimes, we overlook the inner part of the house because we always see the big picture of it. Pipe issues should be checked once in a while so there will be no burst dramas. Thanks for posting!

  3. thanks for your comments. It is always good to have a maintenance plan.

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