Freezing Water Pipes Are a Problem in the South, but You Can Prevent Them With Simple Steps
It's never too late to prepare your home's water pipes for freezing weather, even if the freezing weather has already arrived
It's a scientific fact that water freezes when the temperature drops low enough. So 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, not to mention the headaches.
Pressure causes bursts
It's not really the ice itself that causes pipes to burst, but the ice does cause a lot of problems. When the water starts to freeze, it causes a lot of pressure to build up in the pipes. If that pressure has a place to go safely, such as an open faucet, the pipe can safely freeze in its entirety. But if there's nowhere for the pressure to go, it will force its way out through the weakest point in the pipe, causing a leak once the ice melts and normal water flow resumes. A break in the pipe can be very small. But a small leak can cause tens of 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 just enough to allow water to drip just a little bit. As the pipes freeze, some of the excess pressure can escape through the open faucets. But this isn't foolproof. Depending upon the location of the freeze, the pressure may not be able to get to that opening. A better solution, apart from properly insulating your pipes, would be to allow the water to flow at a steady enough rate so the water does not have a chance to freeze.
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.