The coldest part of winter has yet to reach us, but it will be here soon and that means that water pipes are in danger of freezing and causing tremendous water damage when they do. While exposed piping is most at risk, it is possible for both hot and cold water pipes on the inside to freeze as well if there is a deep cold spell where the temperature drops to well below freezing.
There are some things you can do during these cold spells to prevent pipes from freezing and to help ensure that your pipes don’t burst due to cold weather.
Cold air is the enemy when it comes to burst pipes because the air surrounds the pipes causing the water inside to go still—such as at night when no one is using the water. This is when the air is at its coldest, causing the pipes to freeze and swell allowing water pressures to build up behind the blockage. The next thing you know the pipes freeze and burst and you have a HUGE mess on your hands that can cause thousands of dollars in damage to the house.
Keeping cold air from touching your pipes is the number one way to prevent them from freezing. On nights when you know the temperature will dip to dangerous levels, consider opening under-sink cabinet doors to let warm air circulate around the pipes. Another thing you can do is to turn on a faucet and let the water drip through the night. While yes, this is a waste of water, it can save you in the long run by keeping the water flowing in the pipes.
Exterior walls are at particular risk for freezing in the winter, so keeping the water flowing in these pipes can make a big difference. In accessible areas, you can also use pipe insulation or heat tape to keep your pipes flowing in winter.
If you have an area of frozen pipe in an accessible area, such as under the sink, and you catch it before it bursts you can thaw frozen pipes by using a hairdryer to apply heat to that section of pipe. Gently wave the dryer on the hottest setting back and forth over the pipe until water comes out of the faucet again. If you are unable to thaw it do NOT wait until it bursts. Call a plumber and get help before the disaster happens because if you wait until it bursts you will likely regret it.