While it might be “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for your family, especially the children, the pipes in your house are singing a different tune: “Don’t Let Us Freeze!” Freezing pipes can be inconvenient, dangerous, and very expensive. You see, not only does water stop moving when it’s frozen, it can actually lead to the pipes in your house bursting. Burst pipes will not only take away your hot showers during the cold season, but they will also cripple your holiday shopping budget, as it can be very costly to have them fixed. Obviously, the best way to deal with pipes bursting is to prevent it from happening ahead of time.
Pipes typically burst when there are exposed or uninsulated lengths of pipe on the exterior of your house. While water does expand when frozen, causing bottles or cans of soda to burst in the freezer, this is not what typically causes pipes to burst. Pipes burst due to ice blocking water pressure between the ice and a faucet, typically bursting at a spot where there is little ice to be found! Opening your faucets slightly to allow movement can greatly decrease the chances of pipes freezing or bursting. The cost of increased water usage are dwarfed by the cost of having your pipes replaced. Placing insulation over all over your exposed pipes outdoors is a necessity during the winter, especially if you plan on leaving town.
If you plan on being away from your home for extended periods of time during the winter, there are other things you can do to prevent returning from a trip to a house full of burst pipes. Definitely have a friend or family member on alert to swing by your place and run some faucets during a winter storm. Perhaps the most effective thing you can do is to shut off your main water valve and then turn all your faucets on until no more water comes out. That will empty your pipes of any water that could potentially freeze and cause serious problems while you are out of town. Obviously, this might only be necessary if you live in a climate that freezes for extended periods of time.
Typically pipes freeze when temperatures reach 20°F or below, but it is still wise to have insulation on hand for any time you expect the temperature to fall below freezing. Insulation should be taped around any exposed pipes and you should use an insulated cover over any exposed faucets around your exterior. Unfortunately, some pipes in your outer walls may not be properly insulated, leaving them vulnerable to cold weather. In these cases your best defense is to run water through your faucets to keep it from freezing. You don’t need to open the faucets all the way to have water blast through them to keep them from freezing, just a small amount of flow should suffice.
If you suspect that one of your pipes has burst, contact a plumber immediately! Many more problems will crop up if you have a water leak on your hands, so go ahead and shut off your main water valve, as well. And once again, call a plumber right away.