The winter season ushers in a lot of good things, like breaks from work and more time with family. In the midst of all this, it’s easy to forget about the pipes running through your home. during winter months, the cold weather can wreak havoc on your pipes and cause them to freeze or burst. A few good winter plumbing tips will stop those pipes from freezing and bursting and save you thousands of dollars and large headache.
Fortunately, you can take some simple steps to winterize your plumbing and protect your home from costly damage. To help you avoid these issues and save thousands of dollars, we’ve shared some of our most coveted winter plumbing tips to help maintain a healthy, efficient water system throughout the colder months.
Leaking pipes and burst water lines are nightmarish products of neglect, sudden cold snaps, or the poor plumbing we got unlucky enough to wind up with. In any case, much of the plumbing horrors often experienced during the colder months are easy to prevent with just a bit of time and effort. If you don’t need sewer repair and you’re not quite ready for drain cleaning, here are a few winter plumbing tips to keep in mind this season.
#1. Seal any cracks and rim joists
In the winter months, cold air can intrude through cracks and gaps in your home’s rim joist. Seal any cracks or holes you may find using expandable foam, and then make sure to insulate between the floor joists. Don’t insulate a pipe from the heat source, however, as this can cause the pipe to freeze and burst. For areas around pipes, use non-flammable insulation.
#2. Have your pipes insulated
Insulate exposed pipes in unheated areas, such as basements or crawl spaces, with foam pipe insulation or electric heat tape. Not only will this help reduce the amount of energy needed to heat the water, but it will also help prevent your pipes from freezing.
Pipe insulation alone can reduce heat loss by up to 70%, making it an invaluable tool for helping to keep your pipes from freezing. Additionally, some models of electric heat tape are automated, meaning they automatically adjust their temperature according to the ambient air temperature. This helps further reduce energy costs and ensures that your pipes are kept warm without wasting energy. This is one of the most effective winter plumbing tips to avoid burst pipes.
#3. Keep cabinets and doors open
If you have exposed piping in your kitchen or bathroom, consider keeping the cabinet and/or doors open. This will allow warmer air to circulate around your pipes, creating a buffer zone against freezing temperatures. If you have a vent fan in your bathroom, consider running it for a few minutes each day to keep your pipes warm. A portable heater or space heater running in areas with exposed pipes can also work wonders.
#4. Shut off the main water supply
If you’re going away for an extended period during winter, or if temperatures are expected to drop significantly, make sure to shut off the water at the main valve and drain all remaining water from the system by opening up faucets until they run dry. This will ensure that no water is left in them that can freeze, expand, and cause pipes to burst. Once you return from your trip or when temperatures rise again, you can turn the water back on and refill the pipes.
#5. Keep a steady temperature
A temperature of at least 55F is recommended in any area that contains exposed pipes. You may want to bypass your thermostat and manually set a higher temperature in these areas. Consider installing a programmable thermostat so you can keep an eye on the temperature, even when you’re away. Usually, it is best to keep the heating system running continuously, as sudden drops in temperature or short periods of extreme cold can cause pipes to freeze.
#6. Install Heat cable
Heat cable, or heat tape, is a great way to further protect pipes from freezing. It runs an electric current through a metal conductor, which generates heat that is then transferred to the pipes. Heat cable is available in several lengths and can be easily installed along exposed pipes using adhesive and mounting clips. Unlike pipe insulation, which only helps to prevent heat loss, heat cable actively generates warmth that keeps pipes from freezing in even the coldest temperatures.
#7. Keep emergency shut-off valves accessible
In case of an emergency, it’s important to have easy access to shut-off valves. Make sure everyone in your home knows where these are located and how to use them. This can help you to prevent major water damage if a pipe bursts due to freezing temperatures.
#8. Cover Hose Bibs
Don’t forget to cover any outside faucets and hose bibs, as these are particularly vulnerable to freezing temperatures. Frost-free types are available in various shapes and sizes that can easily be mounted to protect pipes from freezing. This is one of the many winter plumbing tips you easily do in minutes.
#9. Digitize your plumbing
By digitizing your water system, you can monitor the temperature of exposed pipes in real-time. Smart sensors and smart valves can be installed to detect problems with temperature, then send alerts to your phone or computer. This allows you to take immediate action if the temperature drops too low, such as adjusting the thermostat, which is possible with Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats. Digital water systems also help you better understand your water usage and consumption, as well as identify leaks before they cause costly damage.
#10. Have a reliable plumbing professional on hand
Part of winterizing your home includes having a reliable plumber available in case of an emergency. When you have a plumbing emergency, you don’t want to waste time looking for someone who can help. Make sure you have a reliable professional on hand so that you can immediately address any problems before they become too severe.
#11. Disconnect any hoses from inside fixtures
This includes any hoses that are connected to your washing machines, dishwashers, or even outdoor spigots. Drain any remaining water from them and store the hoses in a warm place. In extreme weather, consider leaving your taps open slightly to allow for any built-up pressure to be released. Even though this may increase your water bill slightly, it is a small price to pay compared to the cost of repairing a burst pipe.
#12. Check windows, doors, and other areas for drafts
Drafts can lead to colder temperatures in your home, which can affect exposed pipes. Some methods to prevent drafts include sealing any gaps or holes in your walls, caulking around windows and doors, and adding weatherstripping to exterior doors. You can also install door sweeps at the bottom of exterior doors to prevent cold air from entering. By keeping your home warm and draft-free, you can help to prevent exposed pipes from freezing.
#13. Use frost-free sill cocks
These valves contain long, specially designed stems that extend deep into the warm interior of your home, keeping the valve itself safe from freezing temperatures. Unlike standard sill cocks, these valves are designed to be left open all winter, so they are a great choice for outdoor faucets. They also prevent water from sitting in the pipe and freezing, as it drains out of the valve as soon as you turn the faucet off.
#14. Start Winterizing From The Outside
The outside of your home is your first defense against cold wind and air, and any exposed pipes carrying water will struggle to ward off dropping temperatures. Turning off water valves that feed to outside faucets will prevent water from entering those outside pipes at all, saving you from backed-up ice weaseling into the pipes inside your home. Insulating the faucets with a bib cover and leaving the valve slightly open will help relieve any pressure within the pipe and keep any residual water moving, making it harder to freeze.
#15. Give Your Water Heater A Seasonal Check-Up
A struggling or failing water heater will lead to cold, unregulated water temperatures that could easily become the cause of a freeze. It’s important to peek at your water heater before winter begins, as any issues with water temperature may go unnoticed during the warmer months and only show themselves when it is too late.
Emptying and re-filling your water heater is an excellent way to clear any sediment or mineral buildup and simultaneously check the tank’s pressure release valve, and its overall cleanliness. With buildups removed, your water heater will run hotter, faster, and more efficiently.
#16. Insulate Exposed Pipes
Any pipes that run along outside walls or even within cold areas, like a garage, should be insulated in some way. Left to fend for themselves, water pipes have little to ward off the cold unless they are wrapped with an insulating material, or better yet, a heating wire and insulating material.
A heating wire is a fast fix to the issue of insulation, available to purchase at most home goods stores. Running this wire along an exposed pipe before wrapping it with fiberglass insulation and a thin layer of plastic will keep your pipes toasty all winter long.
#17. Be Careful With The Kitchen Sink
Interestingly, and somewhat amusingly, plumbers become very busy immediately after Thanksgiving because of the influx of guests and extravagant cooking. Fat and grease, if poured down the drain, will clog pipes and slow water movement, leading to freezes–the fat itself can freeze too, causing a major block.
Avoid this by letting fats and oils cool and solidify, then dump them into the trash. Additionally, running water before and after using your garbage disposal will help ensure your line is clear of any food and debris that could clog and freeze once cold temperatures hit.
#18. Keep Your House Warm
This piece of advice goes for those who may be leaving town for a few days and want to lower the heat while they’re away to save on energy costs. In theory, this is a great idea, but there’s a high risk of returning to burst pipes and a multi-thousand-dollar repair bill.
For this reason, keep your thermostat set around fifty degrees–cool enough to save some money but warm enough to stop any freezes. Popping open kitchen cabinets will help keep this warm air moving over plumbing beneath the sink while you’re away, and adding a small heater or fan will keep things even toastier.
#19. Allow Faucets To Drip
Keeping a small trickle going during bitter cold snaps will relieve any built-up pressure within the pipes, especially if freezing does occur. Though this will impact your water bill slightly, the reward of intact pipes and a dry home far outweigh the drawbacks of this preventative measure. Additionally, this will likely only be necessary during bought of extreme cold or during the night, when you know you won’t be using your plumbing for a little while.
#20. Know when to call a professional
When it comes to protecting exposed pipes, some situations are best handled by a professional. Just because you read some great winter plumbing tips doesn’t make you a plumber!
If you have pipes in a crawlspace, basement, or attic that are difficult to access, a professional plumber can help you determine the best course of action. At Danika Plumbing, we are your go-to source for any winterizing needs. We can ensure your home is ready to face the cold temperatures this winter and help you avoid costly water damage.
If you are concerned about a particular area of your home, have us inspect it for you. We will ensure that your pipes are properly protected, so you can have peace of mind this winter.
Contact us today for more information about our services and how we can help you winterize your home.