Freezing Water Pipes Are a Big Problem in the South, but You Can Take Simple Steps to Prevent Them

It's never too late to prepare your home's water pipes for freezing weather

Freezing Temperatures Can Cause Freezing Pipes
Image: Pixabay
January 9, 2019

It's never too late to safeguard your plumbing against freezing temperatures, especially with the wild temperature swings we experience here in North Carolina. Taking a little bit of time and spending a few dollars can save you thousands of dollars in preventable repairs down the road.

Pressure causes bursts

It's not really the ice itself that causes pipes to burst, but it's more about the pressure that builds up in the pipe. A pipe can freeze completely and not burst if that pressure has an outlet.

Water pipes burst after freezing temperatures create significant buildup of ice in the pipes that causes extreme pressure to build up. The pressure looks for the weakest point in your system to escape, which is very often through a fitting or connector. Once the ice melts and normal water flow resumes, that break causes a rapid water leak that can cause thousands of dollars in damages.

Give pressure an escape route

A short-term solution if you think you might be susceptible to freezing pipes is to open your faucets enough to allow water to drip. As the pipes freeze, excess pressure might escape through the open faucets, but it might not depending upon the location of the freeze. But this isn't a practical solution. Even though the flowing water helps keep the pipes from freezing, it can drive up your water bill and isn't a guarantee that your pipes won't burst.

Insulate Exposed Pipes

Pipes that are not insulated and run through unconditioned areas are most susceptible to freezing, but any pipe can freeze. Check all pipes that run through unconditioned spaces, such as garages, attics and crawl spaces. Any pipe that is missing insulation or has damaged insulation should have new insulation installed. Pipe wrap insulation can be purchased from your home improvement store inexpensively. Most homes have 3/4-inch-diameter pipe, but your pipe size might differ. Make sure you get the size appropriate for your pipes. Consider upgrading the insulation on your hot water pipes to prevent heat loss.

Electric Heat Tape For Problem Locations

If freezing pipes are common where you live, you may consider installing electric heat tape for some of the most difficult-to-protect pipes. This tape is relatively easy to install, requiring only a household outlet, and wraps around the water pipe. When plugged in, it provides a relatively small amount but constant supply of heat to the pipe, preventing it from reaching critically low temperatures.

Turn Off Outside Water

During the winter months, we typically don't use the water spigots on the outside of our homes. If you have the ability to do so, turn off the water leading to these outside locations. Many newer homes have a separate shut off valve at the main water entry to turn off water to these locations. Don't forget to open the valve to allow water to drain and pressure to escape.

Add insulation to your home

In addition to wrapping your pipes, you should ensure that the attic or crawl space is also properly insulated if water pipes flow through them. Even if pipes are insulated, they can reach critically low temperatures if the space they are in isn't insulated properly. If your crawl space is missing insulation in some places, for example, the crawl space temperature can reach lower temperatures than it should. The result is lower temperatures reaching your pipes.

Homes in the South are at biggest risk

Ironically, burst pipes are more of problem in the South where building practices are sometimes inadequate to protect pipes from occasional sub-freezing temperatures. For this reason, it's important that we take a moment to check for and properly insulate exposed or partially exposed pipes to prevent freezing.