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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

How to Prepare Your Plumbing for Cooler Weather

10/9/2019 (Permalink)

A water pipe with frozen icicles hanging from it. Insulating pipes can help prevent them from freezing.

As we move into the cooler months of the year, water losses become an even larger threat. Temperatures will start dropping soon, but the threat of pipes freezing and bursting become higher. But there’s a few things you can do to prepare your plumbing for winter and colder temperatures.

One thing you can do to prepare your home is to turn off outside faucets. This can be done at their shutoff valve. Open the faucet then open the bleeder cap on the shutoff valve to drain any water out of the pipe. If you don’t drain the pipe, it can still freeze and crack. Leave the bleeder cap open with a bucket underneath to catch any drips. If the dripping continues, your shutoff valve needs to be replaced. Installing frost-free sill cocks also help to prevent frozen pipes. Unlike a typical faucet, the working parts of a frost-free sill cock— valve, seat and washer—are located up to 18 in. inside the wall instead of right at the faucet. When the sill cock is properly installed, with a slight downward pitch, water drains from the pipe every time you turn off the knob at the faucet. You should also remove any hoses that are connected to faucets. Leaving hoses connected to a faucet in winter can allow water to freeze that’s left inside the hose and back up into the pipe and cause it to crack. Disconnect all hoses from their faucets, drain them and store them for the winter. Covering hose bibs with insulated covers help to slow the heat loss from a pipe as it travels through the wall out into the cold.

The next step is to insulate any vulnerable pipes to keep them from getting too cold. One way you can contribute to their insulation is to install a heat cable. Heat cables are a perfect solution for vulnerable pipes. They have an integral thermostat that senses pipe temperature, turning the heat on and off as needed to keep the pipe from freezing. You’ll need an accessible outlet to plug in the cable.  If you have pipes in an unheated area, such as a crawl space, an attic or a garage, use heat cable and cover it with pipe insulation. Pipe insulation alone does little, as it’s only a matter of time before cold air can reach the frozen pipes. In fact, insulating pipes without also using heat cable can prevent warm air from getting to them. You should also be sure to seal around rim joists to stop cold air intrusion. Seal cracks or holes using expandable foam and then insulate between the floor joists. Be sure that you don’t insulate a pipe from the heat in the rest of the house. Also, inspect around holes where cables, wires or pipes pass through an exterior wall. Insulate where you can, and seal drafts with caulk or expandable foam. After insulating, be sure you have combustion air for the furnace coming in through a makeup air pipe.

There’s a few other tips to discuss for helping your home for winter and preventing water losses as well. If you go out of town for the holidays, be sure to turn off your water while you’re away. As a general rule, if you’re leaving town for a few days or more, turn the water off at the main shutoff. That way, if frozen pipes do crack, you’ll have far less damage. Shut off your automatic ice maker so it doesn’t continually try to make ice, burning out the motor. Even if the ice bin is full, the ice will evaporate, and the ice maker will try to make more. If you have water lines in the garage, insulate the garage door, if not the whole garage. Consider a combination of heat cable and insulation as well. If it’s really cold, put a portable heater in the garage, but be careful to follow instructions and place it in a safe place with no fire or safety hazards. During a sudden cold snap, you should remember to leave your indoor faucets running just a little bit to prevent the pipes from freezing. A trickling faucet acts as a relief valve for the pressure that builds up if frozen pipes do occur. That pressure relief can prevent frozen pipes from cracking. A slow trickle is all you need. It’ll bump up your next water bill a bit, but compared with major home repairs, that’s an easy price to pay. Don’t leave a faucet running if the drain is on an exterior wall, though; the drain can freeze, causing the sink to overflow. Opening cabinet doors also allows heat to get to pipes under sinks and helps prevent them from freezing. Being behind closed doors, kitchen plumbing frozen pipes are vulnerable, as the heat from the rest of the house can’t reach them. Open the cabinet doors to allow heat to circulate into the cabinets. A fan or portable heater pointed inside the cabinet also helps circulate warm air. Just be sure to avoid fire and safety hazards by moving your household chemicals somewhere away from the heat. Keeping the temperature inside your home steady is also a good idea. What constitutes a cold snap depends on your climate and your home’s insulation. A temperature of 32 degrees F isn’t cause for alarm in Minnesota, but it might be in Mississippi. So during extreme cold, bypass your thermostat’s program and leave the temperature steady. You may even want to turn it up a couple of degrees.

Keep these tips in mind as the colder months grow closer. Making habit of these practices can help to save you tons of money on a water loss in the future. And if disaster should happen to strike, you can always count on SERVPRO of Baxter, Boone, Fulton, & Marion Counties to make it “Like it never even happened.”

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