Every winter season, the pipes in buildings and homes are at risk of damage from freezing conditions. An average of a quarter-million people have their lives disrupted and their buildings ruined each winter, all because of water pipes that freeze and burst. Recovering from frozen pipes is not as simple as calling a plumber. An eighth-inch crack in a pipe can spew up to 250 gallons of water a day. By taking a few simple precautions, you can save yourself the mess, money and aggravation that frozen pipes cause.
The following tips can help you safeguard your home before, during and after a pipe freezes.
Before the cold hits:
- Insulate outside walls and unheated areas of your building. Check to see if there is exposed plumbing in an attic area to make sure the attic temperature doesn’t get too low.
- Wrap pipes nearest exterior walls and in crawl spaces with pipe insulation or with heating tape. This can prevent freezing, especially for interior pipes that run along outside walls.
- Close all windows near water pipes; cover or close open-air vents. Freezing temperatures combined with wind drafts can cause pipes to freeze more frequently.
- Heat the basement and consider weather sealing your windows.
- Keep your building temperature at 68 degrees or higher, even if you’re leaving for an extended period of time.
- Identify the location of the main water valve and the valve on your water heater. (Learning the location of these valves may come in handy during an emergency.)
- If you plan to be away from your home or building for an extended period of time, shut off water supply valves to your washing machine.
- Disconnect all gardening hoses and install covers on all outside faucets.
- Open cabinet doors below sinks to allow heat to circulate.
- Identify cold air drafts coming in from a flue or chimney chase and caulk gaps that are near pipes.
- Check pipes around your water meter, in unheated areas, near exterior walls and in crawl spaces. These tend to be vulnerable to freezing conditions.
- Check your faucets for water flow and pressure before you leave the building at night and again in the morning when you return.
- The first sign of freezing is reduced water flow from a faucet.
- Allow a faucet to slightly drip lukewarm water to minimize freezing.
If a Pipe Freezes:
- When thawing a pipe, start thawing it nearest to the faucet. Make sure the faucet is turned on so that melted water can drip out.
- To thaw a frozen pipe, heat water on the stove, soak towels in the hot water and wrap them around cold sections of the pipes.
- If a faucet or pipe inside your house freezes, you can thaw it using a good hair dryer. (For safety purposes, avoid operating a hair dryer around standing water.)
If a Pipe Bursts:
- Shut off water at the main valve.
- If the break is in a hot water pipe, the valve on top of the water heater should be closed.
- Call NCRI for 24/7 Emergency Response 1-800-598-6274
Heater & Fire Place Safety Tips:
Another precaution to be aware of is the use of small space heaters which is one of the leading causes of fires during the winter months.
- Use a space heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. These heaters will have the most up-to-date safety features; older space heaters may not meet the newer safety standards.
- Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep the heater at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture and other flammable materials.
- Make sure your heater is correctly rated for your building. An oversized heater could deplete the available oxygen, causing excess carbon monoxide to be produced.
- NEVER leave a space heater on when you leave the office.
- Turn the space heater off if you leave the area. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
- Have heaters inspected annually to ensure proper operation.
- Have a smoke alarm with fresh batteries on each level of the building, inside every room, and outside the rooms.
- Have a fire extinguisher on hand and check it every 6 months to make sure it works.