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Pipe Down Prevention: How to Avoid Burst Pipes in Winter

Each year, roughly a quarter of a million households in the US experience frozen or burst pipes. In fact, such damages account for 11-20% of homeowner’s insurance claims annually.

And it’s no trivial amount either: burst pipe repair costs around $100-$200 per foot, with most families shelling an average of $400 to $1,500. This amount doesn’t include the clean up and repair costs of water damages, which can add a further $1,000 to $2,000 on top of the bill.

To avoid this headache, it’s crucial to make sure your water pipes are prepared for the cold season. Here’s how to winterize your pipes for reliable and hassle-free plumbing.

Know the Danger Temp

Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. However, pipes that are indoors and insulated from exterior temperatures are more protected.

The typical danger threshold is when outside temperatures reach at least 20 degrees F. At this stage, even indoor pipes are vulnerable to freezing.

Know How Long It Takes

In general, outside temperatures below 20 degrees F that last for 6 consecutive hours present a danger to indoor plumbing. This is why most burst pipe cases happen overnight: not only are temperatures lower at night, the freezing temperatures are uninterrupted and go unnoticed by most people, until they turn on the tap.

Keep It Flowing

In cases of prolonged freezing temperatures, keep one or two faucets open and running. Water movement stops the water supply from remaining pooled and freezing in the pipes. It doesn’t have to be a powerful flow: even a modest trickle can help. This is especially true during freezing nights. 

Check your Air Seals

Air leaks are a major source of heat loss in winter. Not only do they cause discomfort and higher utility bills, they can damage your pipes by lowering the indoor temperature despite the thermostat setting.

For your water line, check for air leaks around the pipeline, dryer vents, and outside connections such as an outdoor tap. Thanks to metal conductivity, a tiny air leak in one area can travel a great deal of distance and travel down, affecting a considerable length of pipeline.

Add Insulation

Use foam insulation to cover exposed pipes. These come in different types:

Flexible elastomeric foams – these have high water vapor resistance with the flexibility of rubber

Rigid foam – Made from PUR or PIR, these have reduced thickness but lowered acoustic performance

Polyethylene – A cheaper option made of flexible foamed plastic

Open Cabinet Doors

For pipes that are under sinks or next to outdoor walls, keep the cabinet doors open. This will allow the heat from inside the home to circulate inside the cabinet, lowering the risk of freezing.

This also helps you spot danger signs like water pooling and icing before you turn on the tap.

Use Heat Tape

Heat tapes are insulation covers specifically designed for use with plumbing. Despite the name, it’s less of an adhesive tape and more of an electric blanket that wraps around water lines. They are self-regulating and come with a built-in thermostat to adjust their heat output based on the ambient temperature.

Older heat tapes needed to be hardwired into the home’s electrical system. However, newer versions are plug-and-play with standard outlets; just make sure to connect them to an outlet with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GCFI) for safety. 

Know When to Bring the Heat

If you don’t have heat tape, or if some suspect some parts are more vulnerable than others, warm it up. These include: 

  • Pipes that run next to an outside wall
  • Pipes near a window
  • Pipes connecting to an exterior faucet
  • Basement

Use a space heater to keep the area warm. For enclosed spaces, make sure to use an electric heater instead of gas or propane, and keep the heater well away from water sources. 

For more information about winterizing your home and not just your waterline, read our guide to preparing your home for winter.

Mickey Luongo

Mickey is the resident heating and air conditioning expert with over 15 years of experience in the industry.

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