Loss of power can cause unexpected loss of heat in your whole house. Summer cottages usually aren’t heated in the winter. Basements sometimes aren’t heated at all!
Any of these can lead to all kinds of expensive damage from frozen water pipes. It’s a good idea to protect water pipes in your home from a freeze by draining or insulating them and having a backup source of heat for emergencies.
Temporary loss of power
If it’s only a bit below freezing outside and you’re hoping the power comes back on in a day or less, you can get by with running water—that just means turning on the taps. They don’t have to be on full blast. Just keep the water running. That’ll keep your pipes from freezing in a pinch, as long as it doesn’t get too cold.
If it’s colder outside, or you’ve got particularly vulnerable pipes, or the power’s not coming back anytime soon, you’re probably going to have to drain all your water pipes. (The same thing goes when you’re winterizing a cottage.) It takes a bit of work, but it’s a lot better than dealing with frozen pipes.
Draining your pipes
You’ll be working bottom to top, basement (and exterior) to second floor. Start by turning off the main water supply and go from there.
Think about every single place that contains water in your home. It’s easy to remember to flush the toilet until there’s nothing left to flush, but it’s a lot harder to remember that water pools in shower hoses. You’ve got to find and drain each and every pipe and hose until it’s as empty as you can get it.
Don’t forget to drain the hot water heater! It’s not going to do you much good if the power’s off!
If you’re winterizing a cottage, you’ll have to go a couple of steps further. You’ll need to pour antifreeze into every drain, because you’re not coming back there any time soon and the pipes are going to need to be okay on their own. You’ll also have to make sure the main water supply from the local town is shut off, so that no water can get back into your pipes while you’re gone.
In-pipe heating solutions
A modern high-tech solution to the frozen pipe problem is the use of heating wires right in the pipe. They work amazingly, but they do rely on having power. If there’s a loss of power, you’d better have a backup generator. Otherwise you’re in the same boat as you were before.
When you live in a winter climate, you should always plan ahead for unexpected loss of power in freezing weather. After all, it’s almost guaranteed to happen sometime in winter! With just a little planning, you can usually get through three days without power without anything serious happening to your pipes.
All your main water pipes should be insulated. Never mind emergencies, it’s a good idea for cutting back on heating costs! There are special foam sheaths that are designed specifically for slipping around water pipes. If you don’t have them on hand, you can make do with small batches of fiberglass batting.
If it’s an emergency, wrap a good, thick blanket around your water pipes. That and keeping the water running can make all the difference.
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