After a mild start to winter, much of the country has been hit with the one-two punch of Winter Storms Harper and Indra and a combination of dropping temperatures and wind chill that resulted in single digits or lower on the thermometer.
During this recent cold snap, many business found themselves faced with frozen pipes that stopped commerce in its tracks – and residents also may have found themselves without water to bathe, cook or drink. That is when calls start coming into your community’s water department – even as public works employees are trying to keep roads safe and passible and municipalities themselves may be dealing with water main breaks.
Most plumbers seem to agree that 20 degrees Fahrenheit is when pipes usually freeze, and some homeowners may be caught by surprise if temperatures drop suddenly or unexpectedly. Surprisingly, this happens more often than you might expect in the southern states – simply because of the rarity of freezing weather.
While properly installed water service lines should be safe from freezing, residents’ interior plumbing may not be, and the older the pipe, the more likely it will freeze and possibly burst. A burst pipe can lose hundreds of gallons of water a day, exposing a home to structural damage and mold.
As part of efforts to improve customer satisfaction through communication be proactive and give your residents these handy tips to prevent water pipe freezes before the next storm comes through.
- When the water in a pipe freezes, it expands, but this usually isn’t enough to cause a pipe to break – it’s the downstream pressure that now has no release, because of the ice blockage. This is why plumbers recommend opening all interior taps if pipes are in danger of freezing, because it reduces the pressure. Allowing a small trickle allows water to flow and prevents the pipe from freezing completely.
- Opening kitchen and bathroom cupboards will allow warmer air to circulate around water lines leading to the sink, but homeowners should be cautioned to remove all hazardous materials, such as cleaning products, and put them out of reach of children and pets.
- Although it may mean a higher heating bill, residents shouldn’t turn down their furnace at night or when they are away during the day, as it will make the pipes more likely to freeze.
- Exposed lines are lines that may freeze. They can be found in basements, crawl spaces, garages, attics, bathrooms and kitchens. Tubes of pipe insulation can be purchased for less than $5 for six feet at a hardware store and installed by DYIers. Approximately 37 percent of interior pipes burst in basements, and residents can protect their pipes with a few dollar’s worth of insulation.
- If insulation sleeves aren’t enough, cold temperatures are brutal or a line is particularly exposed, residents may want to use heat tape, also available in hardware stores.
- Residents also may want to invest in reusable water sensors that detect leaks as they occur and moisture before mold becomes a problem. They can be installed anywhere pipes may leak – near sinks, toilets and appliances such as water heaters, washers and dishwashers – and only cost around $10 on average.
- If a home has an integral garage or if water lines pass through the garage, keep all garage doors shut, even if there’s no heat source. Keeping the wind out will still provide some protection.
- Exterior faucet bibs and underground sprinkler systems should be flushed, drained and all water shut off to those systems.
- If a pipe does freeze completely, residents should turn on the tap to encourage flow and warm the pipe, either with heating tape, a heating pad or a towel soaked in hot water. Do not use any open flame such as a blow torch or propane heater, especially in a small, enclosed area – it is a fire hazard. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to call a professional plumber.