If you've just bought a house in an area where the winter months mean freezing temperatures, it also means you need to be more attentive to your home's plumbing. Although most of your pipes are likely to be indoors, your home probably has some that run through uninsulated areas. Those are the pipes that are most at risk. Here are a few tips to help you understand what you'll need to do to protect them, as well as guidance for dealing with a freeze if it should happen.
Tips for Preventing Frozen Pipes
The very best defense against frozen pipes is a coordinated, strong offense. If you know that cold weather is on the way, it's time to be proactive about protecting those pipes. Wrap any uninsulated or at-risk pipes with heat tape or added insulating material. The pipes to focus on the most are the ones that run along exterior walls and those in unheated spaces like crawl spaces and garages.
You'll also want to keep water flowing through the pipes in the house. Moving water helps to reduce the risk of freezing. To do this, turn each faucet on to a slow trickle overnight. That keeps water running all night, which should protect against freezing. You might even want to put a space heater in unheated areas that are particularly problematic.
Tips for Addressing Frozen Pipes
If your best efforts to prevent freezing aren't effective or the cold weather catches you unaware, it's likely going to leave you facing frozen pipes in your home. Act quickly to help reduce the collateral damage from the freezing. Frozen pipes can be isolated to one part of the house or it could affect all of the lines due to freezing in the main pipe. The first step is to determine how widespread the issue is.
Test each faucet one at a time. Turn on the faucet and leave it for a minute or two. If you see water flowing, the pipes in that section of the house are okay. If there's no water flow, it means the pipes in that section of the house or downstream from that faucet are frozen. Work your way through the house to isolate the problem.
Before you thaw the pipes, turn off the main water valve. This protects you from inadvertently flooding your house. Since water expands when it freezes, you risk cracks and other damage to the pipes. As soon as you thaw that water, it's going to leak through those cracks. Check each pipe for cracks and place a bucket or other container directly underneath any visibly damaged areas.
Apply indirect heat, such as with a hair dryer or a heating pad. Turn the heat up in the house as well, because the ambient warmth will help. As the water thaws, start testing faucets. This will help you determine if you've resolved the problem or if there's still another frozen pipe somewhere.
If you aren't confident in your ability to deal with frozen pipes successfully, you should reach out to a plumber who can help. He or she can apply more directed, intense heat to speed up the process. Most plumbers will use heat guns or something similar, but you don't want to try that at home without professional expertise.
Since frozen pipes can be disastrous, it's important that you're proactive. But, that doesn't mean that you'll be able to prevent them all the time. As you can see here, there are several steps you can take to prevent them as well as fix the problem if they do freeze. Talk with a local plumber before freezing weather comes in for more advice about dealing with the pipes in your home.