With deep freeze coming, now is the time to protect against frozen pipes

Photo by CWG's Ian Livingston
Photo by CWG’s Ian Livingston

If you are a homeowner and haven’t already taken action to protect your pipes from freezing and bursting, now may be a good time to do so. The window of opportunity is small, but temperatures rising to near and above 40 this afternoon into early tomorrow morning provide an opportunity to remove and drain outdoor hoses, and/or shut off the water to outside hose bibs, among other preventative tactics.

With the temperatures likely dropping to the single digits to near zero Monday night, burst pipes are likely to be a significant problem across the area. I talked to a plumber yesterday who recommended that now would be a good time to shut off the water to the outside of the home for those who haven’t already — before the wicked cold begins to arrive starting mid-to-late Monday morning.

Why do pipes freeze? The Red Cross explains the problem…

Water has a unique property in that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. No matter the “strength” of a container, expanding water can cause pipes to break. Pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets. Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation are also subject to freezing.

Tips from the Red Cross include…

  • Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
  • When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

For more tips, and what to do if you suspect a frozen pipe, see the Red Cross page on “Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes.”

Dan Stillman is a meteorologist and editor for the Capital Weather Gang. He earned an M.S. in Meteorology from Texas A&M University, and a B.S. in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences from the University of Michigan.
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