Contrary to popular belief, pipes don’t burst at the point where water freezes, but somewhere between the freeze and a closed faucet, such as the kitchen faucet or washing machine. When the pressure builds due to ice blockage, it has nowhere to go but through the pipe walls, leading to extensive water damage. You can avoid this problem by properly insulating the plumbing pipes in your home.
1. Pipe Insulation:
Your pipes are more susceptible to freeze damage when temperatures drop to 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below. If you live in an area where these winter temperatures are the norm, take extra caution when insulating pipes. For example, in Denver, the average low temperature is 23 degrees Fahrenheit beginning in November, and temperatures can drop into the teens in the months that follow. For pipe winterization, add a thicker layer of insulation around your pipes.
Insulate the pipes in all unheated areas, as they are most likely to freeze. Wrap the pipes in insulation tubes made of polyethylene or fiberglass. Measure the outside diameter of your pipes to make sure you purchase the correct size of tube. Take extra care with pipes that have frozen during previous winters or have been repaired in the last 12 months. According to John Ward, a Denver based plumber with Applewood Plumbing, Heating and Electric, these pipes are more susceptible to damage. He also suggests wrapping pipes in heat-tape prior to insulating. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using heat-tape to avoid damage.
2. Let the Faucets Drip:
On nights when the temperature is expected to drop below freezing, turn on faucets along the exterior walls to create a small, steady drip. This eliminates pressure that can build between the faucet and an ice blockage, so even if a pipe freezes, it may not burst.
3. Open Cabinets:
Open all sink-base cabinet doors along exterior walls to allow more heat to reach the pipes.
4. Exterior Cracks:
Note any cracks or holes along the outside walls and foundation of your home. Filling holes and cracks with spray foam insulation and caulking can help stop the cold air from coming into contact with your water pipes during extremely cold weather.
5. Seal off Crawl Space:
Pier and beam homes with ventilated crawl spaces should be sealed against the cold weather. Cover your vents with heavy-duty pieces of cardboard cut to fit the vents, duct taping the cardboard in place. Don’t forget to seal off access to the crawl space. If you have a basement, look for cracked basement windows that could allow cold air to make contact with pipes. Check for worn or missing insulation around garage and utility doors. Reducing the amount of cold air in the area minimizes your pipes’ vulnerability.
by Cecilia Harsch