There are many ways to prevent your pipes from freezing during the cold winter months. The tricks you should use will depend on how cold your area gets, plumbing location and whether or not your plumbing is in use. These tips range from simple steps to extreme measures to prevent frozen pipes.
Exposed plumbing in basement or crawl spaces
In a basement, the easiest way to prevent your pipes from freezing is to make sure the area has heat. As long as the pipes are exposed to some warmth, over a freeze level, you should not encounter problems. If you cannot provide heat, you can try other methods. Uninsulated pipes can begin to freeze when outside temperatures drop to 20A° F (-7C) or below.
In moderate winter environments, pipe wrapping is inexpensive and usually sufficient. Wrapping material is available at most building or hardware stores. The most common insulating material is a black foam-like wrap. The wrap is split lengthwise to easily slip over exposed plumbing.
Pipes can also be wrapped with fiberglass insulation and tape but the process is not as easy. In crawl spaces, add extra blanket insulation around the pipes after wrapping them. The more insulation used in these areas, the better the results.
In areas where extremely cold winters are common, pipe-heating tape is your best choice. The system is not overly expensive and does not require constant monitoring. This tape contains electrical wire that will heat up when the thermostat reaches a pre-set level. Caution should be used with plastic plumbing lines to prevent overheating. The system is electrically operated and the possibility of a power failure should be kept in mind.
If you are without power, or will be away from home for an extended period, consider draining your plumbing lines. Shut off the incoming water at your main and allow faucets to run until they are drained. You need to turn off your water heater to protect the heating element if you use this procedure.
On occasions when temperatures are expect to drop severely, you should open cabinet doors to allow household heat to reach the pipes. This is important when the pipes run along exterior walls in a kitchen or bathroom.
While not the best solution, leaving one faucet dripping slightly will keep water moving in your plumbing lines. Moving water is much less likely to freeze.
Always know where the main water shut off to your plumbing is located. If you suspect that your pipes are damaged, turn the supply off to prevent flooding.
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