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How to Keep Water Pipes from Freezing in Winter

Frozen water pipes pose a problem - both during freezing temperatures and after, when pipes begin to thaw.

Why are Frozen Pipes a  Problem

Water expands as it freezes, putting pressure on the pipes containing it.  Expanding water can cause even metal pipes to break, especially those exposed to harsh, low temperatures.  While outdoor pipes are the most likely to break, damage can occur in your home, too.

Water pipes in unheated areas like garages, basements, attics, or kitchen cabinets are the most common of victims.  Pipes can freeze in temperatures as low as 20 degrees.

Preventing Frozen Water Pipes

Prior to the onset of freezing weather, take these precautions to avoid pipe damage:

  • Remove, drain, and store outdoor hoses.
  • Close indoor valves that support outdoor hose bibs.
  • Open outdoor hose bibs and keep them open.
  • Check water supply lines under kitchen and bathroom sinks, in basements, and in other unheated areas.  Hot and cold water pipes in these areas should both be insulated.
  • Consider installing products to insulate at-risk water pipes.

The work doesn't stop once the cold weather surfaces.  During freezing temperatures:

  • Keep garage doors closed to protect water supply lines.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate around the plumbing.
  • Let cold water drip from faucets served by exposed pipes.
  • Don't reduce thermostat temperatures overnight.

Thawing Frozen Pipes

If you turn on your water and only a trickle comes out, the pipe is probably frozen.  If you suspect a frozen pipe, try the following:

  • Keep the faucet open.  Running water through the pipe will help melt any ice inside of it.
  • Apply heat to the section of the pipe by wrapping a heating pad or towels soaked in hot water around it.  You can also use a hair dryer to melt the ice.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored.

If you're not able to restore water flow, if the frozen area is inaccessible, or if you can't locate the frozen area, call a licensed plumber.