Plumber’s Tips to Prevent Freezing Pipes

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Here's How to Prevent Your Pipes from Freezing During Cold Kentucky Months

Frozen copper pipe - Jarboe's Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling

During the winter months, your Louisville home’s plumbing system requires some extra care to prevent freezing pipes. Take measures beforehand to protect your plumbing, and take action during periods of cold weather to help prevent freezing pipes.

The licensed Louisville plumbers of Jarboe’s Plumbing, Heating & Cooling share our tips to keep your pipes safe and reduce the likelihood of frozen pipes this winter. We share home improvement tips and steps to take during cold spells to help prevent freezing pipes, as well as educate homeowners on the warning signs of a pipe freeze and what to do if this happens.

Problems Caused by Frozen Pipes

The main issues caused by frozen pipes are damage to your plumbing system, as well as leaks which have the potential to lead to significant water damage in the home. When pipes freeze, pressure stresses the pipe material, which leads to damage that causes leaks.

As water freezes, it expands, which adds pressure against the pipe material. A blockage of ice also prevents water from flowing through the pipe, so pressure mounts behind the blockage which also harms the pipe. Frozen pipes cause minor damage and leaks, as well as pipe bursts which result in severe leaks and water damage in homes.

Make Improvements to Prevent Freezing Pipes

To prevent freezing pipes in your home, start with some maintenance and home improvement steps that protect your plumbing against cold temperatures. The tasks below help keep your plumbing pipes free of freezing within and the damage that results.

  • Improve insulation levels
  • Seal air leaks
  • Drain hose bibs

Improve Insulation Levels

Plumbing lines often run through spots in the home that are unheated and commonly lack insulation sufficient enough to keep these pipes protected. Pipes exposed to colder temperatures are more likely to freeze, and in these out-of-sight areas, leaks are more likely to go unnoticed.

Add insulation to increase the R values in your basement, crawlspace, attics, garages, and other areas where plumbing lines run. Better insulation helps the area retain heat, which works to prevent freezing pipes.

Additionally, insulation is able to be added directly to plumbing pipes to protect against cold temperatures. Foam and fiberglass tube insulation fits directly around plumbing lines to help them retain heat and create a barrier against cold weather. 

Seal Air Leaks

Cracks and openings in exterior walls and foundations increase the amount of cold air pipes are exposed to, which increases the chances of frozen pipes. When you seal air leaks, more cold outdoor air is kept away from the areas where plumbing lines run to keep them safe and prevent freezing pipes.

Conduct a visual inspection of the exterior of your home to identify any gaps and openings leading into your home. Check the foundation, around exterior pipe and wire penetrations, around crawlspace access doors, and other areas for air leaks. Use caulk or spray foam insulation to perform air sealing – the right type of sealant to use depends on the surrounding building materials. Also, take the time to close crawlspace vents, if applicable – this keeps cold air out and helps your crawlspace retain heat during the winter to protect pipes.

Drain Hose Bibs

Hose bibs are the outdoor spigots that supply water to garden hoses. Because they are exposed to cold weather on the exterior of the home, hose bibs require maintenance to prevent freezing pipes during the winter months.

You want to make sure your garden hoses are disconnected each fall, drained, and stored. Garden hoses should not be left attached, as they can prevent water from exiting the hose bib which reduces the chance of freezing. When water is left inside the hose, the hose itself can be damaged due to expanding ice. Always store hoses in the garage or shed during the winter season.

To drain your hose bibs and ready them for winter, follow the steps below. You need to complete these steps for each hose bib on your home – many homes have hose bibs on the front and backsides of the home for convenience. 

  • Find the shutoff valve for your hose bib. It’s usually located inside the home, basement, or crawlspace behind where the hose bib is installed. Turn the valve off, which stops water movement to the hose bib.
  • Outside, turn on your hose bib. As the hose bib is open, remaining water drains so there is no water left in the line which could freeze. Leave the hose bib open for the winter so any water that gets into the supply pipe is able to exit.
  • Back at the shutoff valve, find the bleed valve beneath. Set a bucket or bowl below and open the bleed valve to allow any leftover water to exit the lines.

Frost-free hose bibs are available for installation which prevent freezing pipes and reduce the maintenance required by homeowners. With a longer supply line, a frost-free hose bib’s shutoff valve sits farther inward in warmer areas of the home. Because it is not as prone to cold temperature exposure, it does not freeze. The pipe is also installed to slope downward, so water drains instead of sticking around in the pipe where it has the potential to freeze. Ask your plumber about installing frost-free hose bibs at your home to prevent freezing pipes.

Cold Weather Protections to Prevent Freezing Pipes

When temperatures drop throughout the Louisville areas, homeowners need to take action to prevent freezing pipes. Keep tabs on the weather forecast throughout the season so you know when temperatures are expected to drop below freezing. When this occurs, prevent freezing pipes by doing the following:

  • Keep your heating system on and set above 50 degrees. Never turn the heat off when you go on winter vacations or in an otherwise vacant home. With the heat on at this temperature, the home and pipes stay warm enough to reduce the chances of pipe freezes.
  • Warm up the pipes. Open doors to utility rooms and laundry rooms, as well as cabinet doors below sinks – this is especially important to do for plumbing lines that run on your home’s exterior walls. With doors open, the plumbing lines are warmed by your home’s heated air to prevent freezing pipes.
  • Turn your taps on and allow a small stream of water to flow. When you keep water moving through the pipes, the chances of a pipe freeze are reduced.
  • Keep overhead garage doors shut to protect plumbing lines that run through your garage. When the overhead door is opened, cold outdoor air infiltrates the space and your garage loses heat, which has the power to cause frozen pipes.

Know the Signs of Frozen Pipes

Even with good preparation, sometimes frozen pipes do still happen. Because frozen pipes lead to pipe bursts and leaks, you need to know the signs and watch for frozen pipes so that you are able to take action right away to avoid damage.

The signs of frozen pipes include:

  • Uneven waterflow
  • Very little water from taps
  • No water from taps
  • Odors from drains and faucets
  • Frost on visible pipes
  • Damp walls or visible pipe leaks
  • Whistling sounds from plumbing lines

Steps to Take If Pipes Freeze

If you notice the signs of frozen pipes, you need to identify where the freeze has occurred. If a single tap in your home is affected, the frozen section is likely in that tap’s supply line. If you have issues throughout your home, check the home’s main supply lines for freezing.

Before you begin to thaw pipes, inspect them for damage as best you are able. If pipes have been damaged, you don’t want to thaw them, because once the ice plug is gone, water is able to leak out into your home. If you notice pipe damage, turn off your home’s water shutoff valve and call your plumber for repairs.

If your pipes appear to be undamaged, follow these steps to thaw the frozen pipe:

  • Turn on the faucet. As the ice thaws, water will be able to exit through the tap. Also, with the faucet open, water is able to continue to flow, which helps thaw ice in the pipes.
  • Warm the frozen pipe with the help of a hair dryer or space heater. You can also use an electric heating blanket or towels soaked in hot water applied directly to the pipe to thaw ice. Continue to apply heat until the pipe has thawed. Do not use heaters that create high temperatures or use an open flame, as these could cause damage to your plumbing lines.
  • Once normal water pressure is restored, discontinue applying heat to the pipes.
  • Inspect the pipes for leaks that show up once waterflow is restored.

If you are unable to locate areas of frozen pipes, call a plumber for emergency plumbing repair service. Our plumbers find frozen pipes, inspect for damage, thaw and make repairs as needed to restore the use of water in your home and to protect your plumbing system.

Prevent Freezing Pipes with Jarboe’s

Jarboe’s Plumbing, Heating & Cooling is here to help you prevent freezing pipes through plumbing system upgrades and maintenance, and remedy frozen pipes to protect your home. Our plumbers are available to perform emergency service and thaw your pipes as well as repair damage caused by frozen pipes. For plumbing repair, call us today.

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