Every winter, there seems to be at least one picture that circles the Internet of a building or home covered in a waterfall of ice. These ice waterfalls occur when a pipe has frozen and burst, and the water has leaked out of the building and down an exterior wall. These types of situations often occur because the owner left for an extended period without implementing winter plumbing protection. Needless to say, the building owner is usually tasked with fixing the broken pipe and repairing any water damage once they return. While frozen pipes are a nightmare scenario, you can avoid it by taking a few precautions this winter.
Practical Ways to Prevent Your Pipes from Freezing and Bursting
Just because a pipe has frozen doesn’t mean it’s automatically going to burst. Frozen plumbing pipes burst when the pressure inside the pipe exceeds what the pipe can handle. However, it’s a good idea to take a few preventative measures to prevent your pipes from freezing. Let’s take a look at the 10 ten things you can do for winter plumbing protection.
1. Pay Close Attention to all the Pipes that Are on Your Building’s Exterior Walls
The exterior walls of your building still get extremely cold in the winter, and they can get cold enough to become frozen pipes that are inside that wall. Most of the time, these pipes are located under sinks, and all you have to do is open the cabinets and let the faucets drip when the temperatures are below freezing.
2. Insulate Any Pipes That Are In Non-Heated Areas
If you have pipes that are located in unheated areas, including in basements and crawlspaces, make sure to wrap them with pipe insulation. If you have utility or mop closets, you’ll want to make sure those spaces are heated if they contain any water-using fixtures, like a mop sink.
3. Disconnect Outdoor Hoses from the Spigots
Take a walk around your building and check for any hoses that may be attached to your outdoor spigots. Unhook the hoses and put them away. Additionally, if you don’t have frost-free spigots, you’ll want to consider having your current spigots replaced with frost-free spigots. This is because exterior hose-bibs can freeze when the temperature drops below 32 degrees.
4. Winterize Your Irrigation System
Before the temperatures get below freezing, you’ll want to winterize your irrigation system. You should shut off the water supply to the system and drain all the water from the lines. This can be accomplished by turning on all the manual valves, using the flush valves, or blowing the system out with compressed air. If your system has a timer, turn off the timer. If you’re not sure how to safely and effectively winterize your irrigation system, it’s best to call a professional.
5. Seal Any Air Leaks in Your Building
If you’ve noticed any drafts in your building, you’ll want to seal those. This could mean caulking around the doors and windows in your building. If you notice the areas around your windows are still cold, you may want to consider replacing the windows with better-insulated ones.
6. Use Heat Tape
If you’re still concerned about some pipes freezing, even after insulating the pipes and opening cabinet doors, you may want to invest in heat tape. Heat tape is a type of heated cord that you can wrap around pipes to keep them above freezing. Heat tape usually has a sensor that monitors the temperature and turns the heat tape on and off according to the temperature.
7. Keep the Building Heated to at Least 55 Degrees
In the winter, you want to keep your thermostats set to at least 55 degrees, even in unoccupied buildings, if they have water pipes. Fifty-five degrees is the lowest temperature that you can set your thermostats and not have the pipes freeze. However, it’s important to note that this temperature is not typically comfortable for humans. Most humans prefer the temperature set between 68 and 70 degrees, so if the building is occupied, you’ll want to have your thermostat set higher to ensure everyone is comfortable.
8. Turn Off Water to Unused Buildings
If you have a building that contains water pipes but isn’t used in the winter, you can turn off the water and drain the system. Once you shut off the water at the meter, turn on the faucets to drain any remaining water in the pipes. You want to leave the water on until it’s a slow drip. If you leave water in the pipes it could expand and damage the pipe. If the building has a water heater, you’ll also need to drain the water heater.
9. Drip Faucets on Below-Freezing Days
When the temperature is less than 32 degrees, you’ll want to drop your faucets, especially during the overnight hours. If you have residents in your building, you’ll want to remind them to drip their faucets. It’s important to note that dripping a faucet doesn’t prevent the pipe from freezing. However, it does prevent the build-up of pressure from the ice blockage to the nearest water fixture. It’s that pressure buildup that breaks the pipe.
10. Invest in a Pre-Winter Plumbing Inspection
To ensure that you’ve done all you can for your plumbing pipes, it’s a good idea to invest in a pre-winter plumbing inspection. Pre-winter inspections typically include checking for damage to your pipes, like cracks holes, and corrosion. They check for slow drainage, which could indicate a partial clog. They inspect hose bibs for proper function and to make sure they’re frost-free, and they test your water pressure. If your heating system has pipes, they also check your heating system. If problems are found during this inspection, it’s best to have the repairs performed as soon as possible.
Signs of Frozen Pipes
If you suspect your pipes are frozen, there are signs you can look for, including:
- There’s no water flowing from the pipe – This is a sign that your pipe has completely frozen.
- You can see visible frost on the pipe – This is a sign that the pipe is below freezing.
- Turning on the faucet results in stinky air – If the air coming from the faucet stinks, the pipe may be frozen.
- You hear banging or clanking – If you turn on the faucet and hear banging or clanking, the pipe may be frozen.
How to Fix Frozen Pipes
- If you do end up with a frozen pipe, immediately turn on the faucet connected to the pipe. This helps relieve the pressure in the pipe and can prevent it from bursting.
- If the pipe is easily visible and reachable, you can apply some heat tape to it. To use heat tape, you simply wrap the cord around the pipe and plug it in. You may also be able to use a space heater or a hair dryer to gently thaw the pipe. Remember to never use any type of open flame. If the pipe is going to thaw, it should do so in about 30 minutes.
- If you can’t get the pipe to thaw or you cannot reach the pipe, you may have to call a professional plumber.
Rehabilitate Plumbing Pipes with NuFlow
If you are looking for an affordable way to extend the useful lives of your plumbing pipes our technicians at NuFlow Midwest can help. We offer epoxy pipelining, which creates a pipe within a pipe. Epoxy pipelining can help seal small leaks, prevent corrosion, and give your pipes a longer lifespan. In fact, epoxy pipelining is rated to last between 35 and 50 years. It’s also low maintenance and fast.
If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of epoxy pipelining and schedule a building pipe assessment, contact us.