Frozen Pipe Prevention

What should people do to prevent frozen pipes in cold temperatures?

Frozen pipes can cause big problems for homeowners. If a frozen pipe breaks it can cause flooding in your house, create structural damage and has the immediate potential for cultivating mold. Frozen pipes bursts can result in thousands of dollars of damage to your home.

The pipes most at risk are those in unheated interior spaces such as basements, crawl spaces, attics and garages. But even pipes running through cabinets or exterior walls can freeze. Typically, you should begin to worry about uninsulated pipes when the outdoor temperature is 20 degrees.

The good news is that there are things you can do to prevent frozen pipes, both before winter hits and during cold weather. Before winter hits, there are several things you can do to prepare:

  • Know the location of your main water shut-off valve. This is the valve located somewhere in your garage or house where the water from the street first enters your home. There is also JCSA’s water line shut-off valve, located in your meter box, which can be used to cut off your water if you cannot find or reach the main shut-off valve. If you are still unable to shut off the water, JCSA has on-call staff who can respond to your emergency. However, note that it could take up to an hour for JCSA staff to arrive onsite.
  • Consider insulating the pipes in your crawl spaces and attic. Remember that exposed pipes are the most susceptible to freezing. Heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cable can be used to wrap pipes. Be sure to use products approved by an independent testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratory, and only use the product for which it is intended. Remember to closely follow the manufacturer’s installation and operating instructions.
  • Use caulk or insulation to seal up cracks and openings that are allowing cold air inside. Look for air leaks around crawl space vents, wiring, dryer vents and pipes; and make sure to eliminate cold air sources near water lines.  
  • Disconnect garden hoses and if possible, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain pipes leading to outside faucets. Installing insulated faucet covers is another great way to protect outdoor faucets from freezing.

After you have done those things, if cold temperatures hit, then you can also do the following:

  • Keep the heat on and keep the thermostat set at the same temperature day and night.
  • Open up the kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. If you do this and have small children in the house, you should remove any harmful cleaners or chemicals that are stored in these cabinets.
  • Let water drip from the faucet. Obviously, this is not something that’s normally recommended as it is counters the JCSA goal to conserve water, but during extreme cold weather it is okay to let faucets drip slowly.
  • Keep your garage door closed.

What about irrigation systems?

Irrigation pipes are typically not buried very deep and are very susceptible to freezing. The JCSA recommends that anyone who has an irrigation system winterize it every fall, draining all of the water from the lines. A leak in an irrigation line can sometimes go undetected and the result can be a very high water bill.

What if you go on vacation?

Don’t ever set your thermostat below 55 degrees. The JCSA would suggest that you ask a friend or neighbor to check on your house. Also consider turning off your water; although, if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in the house, it may be deactivated if you turn off the water.

If your pipes do freeze, what should you do?

If you turn your faucets on and nothing comes out, leave the faucets on, shut off your main water shut-off valve and call a plumber. Do not ever try to thaw a pipe with a torch or open flame. However, you may use a hairdryer but please remember to never use any electrical appliance in areas of standing water. Once the pipes have thawed, turn water back on slowly and check for leaks. If your pipes have already burst, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve but leave the faucets on and call a plumber.