It’s been a long, cold winter so far, and for most of the country there is a lot more of it to go. The temperatures for the month of February will still be low, and the continuous cold takes a toll on your home. Ice dams can form around your gutters causing your roof to leak, and frozen pipes can burst.
Since preventing frozen pipes is definitely a better option than coming home to water flowing through your home, it might be a good idea to talk about a few ways to prevent a home disaster. Some tips can be done by the homeowner, while others may require a professional’s hand.
Frozen pipes occur when cold air surrounds the pipe, and water within the pipe freezes and increases pressure somewhere between the frozen blockage and the closed faucet. Holes in the outside wall of your house where cable or internet lines come through the walls can let in a lot of cold air. This can be a problem if these holes are too close to water pipes. Sealing the holes with caulk will not only protect your pipes, but will create a more energy efficient home.
Wrapping pipes with insulation is another easy fix. Most home improvement centers or plumbing supply stores sell pipe sleeves manufactured for this purpose. The thicker the insulation, the better; just be sure that no gaps exist where the pipe is exposed to the cold air.
One easy tip is to just open the cabinet doors under your kitchen sink, bathroom vanities, etc., anywhere a pipe is housed and no warm air can circulate. Allowing a faucet to drip, while not the optimum way to prevent frozen pipes, does help in some cases. I know of one case where a homeowner never had a frozen pipe until he had a plumber fix a leaky faucet. Letting a small drip may work in some instances, but it wastes water and does not take care of the underlying problem.
If your pipes are in an unheated crawl space or an outside wall, electric heating tapes and cables can be used to run along the pipes, providing enough warmth to prevent freezing. However, because of the need for this wiring to be up to code, and because a thermostat needs to be installed so the heated wires will turn on when needed, it’s best to call in a professional to do the installation. It’s a more expensive option, but definitely cheaper than the repairs needed when pipes burst inside your walls.
So how cold does it need to be before pipes freeze? Well, 20 degrees Fahrenheit seems to be the general rule, but the actual freezing point could be higher depending on weather conditions, as well as where your pipes are located. It’s always better to prevent than it is to repair. Take a look around your home and see what options fit your needs, and keep those pipes warm.Photo Source: By Cha già José from Vienna, Austria (Frozen Pipes Uploaded by darkweasel94) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons