Prevent Your Water Pipes from Freezing This Winter

Icicles hanging from a brown pipe

When water freezes, it expands by up to 10%, which can spell all kinds of problems for your home. Frozen pipes may crack or burst, creating water damage throughout your house. If you can’t access your shut off valve fast enough to turn off the flow from your water supply, you may even be faced with standing water and mold growth.

Outdoor pipes are especially prone to the frozen pipe problem, since they can freeze easily in the cold. If the right steps aren’t taken to winterize hose bibs and prevent frozen pipes, you could be faced with everything from marshy landscaping to foundation damage. Preventing frozen pipes can save you from significant damage and costs this season.

Here at Jarboe’s Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, we are committed to making life easier for Louisville residents. We want you to know how to keep wall faucets healthy, how to prevent pipes from freezing all season long, and how to take care of thawing frozen pipes after a hard freeze. Read on to learn how to protect your home from serious water damage.

When Frozen Pipes Are A Concern

Whenever the temperature outdoors is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, your home is at a higher risk for frozen water lines. Your risk of experiencing frozen pipes goes up dramatically during prolonged cold weather spells, since the water inside your pipes will have more time to develop crystals, freeze, and spread.

Supply lines and pipes in some parts of your home are more prone to freezing than others. For instance, water lines deep within the heart of your home where air circulates and lines are used heavily are less likely to freeze, since they may be in rooms that are heated and not exposed to direct cold. On the other hand, exterior lines or plumbing that runs within outdoor walls have the highest risk of freezing, since they are subjected to cooler temperatures.

Tips for Avoiding Frozen Outdoor Pipes

Outdoor plumbing lines that supply water to spigots are especially prone to damage from freezing water if they aren’t winterized appropriately. Winterize your outdoor pipes before the first hard freeze of the year to prevent a freeze.

Regular Hose Bibs:

  1. Find attached hoses, disconnect them, and pour out any water that is standing inside the hose. Wipe down the hose casing, roll it up, and store it indoors inside a shed, garage, or other storage area during winter. Keeping hoses in a heated space will prevent water from freezing inside the hose causing damage, and keep anyone from reconnecting the hose, which could cause a frozen pipe. If hoses are left in place, water can sit inside the hose, freeze, expand into the supply line inside your house, and break—causing an indoor flood.
  2. Locate the shutoff valves that supply the outdoor spigot and close it. These valves are typically located behind the wall where the spigot sits, a few feet inside basements or crawlspaces. If you have a home with a slab foundation, the shutoff may be inside near that exterior wall, possibly behind an access panel. Some homes also have a secondary water system used for irrigation. If you have secondary water, the shut off valve for your spigot and sprinklers may be near the water meter inside a sprinkler access box.
  3. Older faucets may have a drainage port on the water line near the shutoff valve. Drain any excess water from the line by placing a bucket below this port and opening the valve, giving water the chance to drain.
  4. If there isn’t a drainage port, open the faucet outdoors after the interior valve is closed to drain any extra water from the line. Leave the faucet open throughout the winter to relieve water pressure if the line does freeze.
  5. Protect the outdoor bib with an insulated foam cover.

Frost-Free Hose Bibs

  1. Remove any garden hoses, drain them, and store them indoors.
  2. Close the shutoff valve to the pipe that supplies the hose bib, then open the spigot to remove any extra standing water.
  3. Make sure to cover the spigot with an insulated foam bib cover.

If you are wondering whether you have a normal hose bib or a frost-free hose bib, consider the age of your home. Frost-free bibs are typically installed in newer homes and are angled downwards to keep water from sitting within the line. Frost-free bibs have water shutoff valves that sit further into the heart of the home, which raises the temperature of any standing water in the line. The entire supply line slopes downward from the interior valve to the faucet, so water is forced out of the faucet if it does freeze and increase water pressure. If you don’t have frost-free bibs in your home but you are concerned about frozen pipes, consider having a plumber upgrade your bibs for you.

You can also prevent frozen pipes when you insulate faucets and supply pipes. Foam hose bib covers are very inexpensive and can be installed over exterior fixtures in minutes to shield the faucet from freezing temperatures.

Pipe insulation sleeves can be placed around any pipes, creating an essential heat barrier between the inside of the pipe and the outside weather. You should use these sleeves to insulate any pipes that run through unheated spaces, such as attics, basements, and crawlspaces. If you have water lines that run inside exterior walls, keep HVAC vents open in those rooms to circulate warm air, and open cabinet doors to keep the walls behind them warm. You can also open the faucets in your home slightly until water trickles to keep water moving all night long, preventing a hard freeze.

What Happens Next When Outdoor Pipes Freeze?

If pipes do freeze, the resulting damage can be staggering. When water freezes and expands, it can put pressure on the interior pipe walls, causing swelling and cracks. While you may not notice any problems at first, major water leaks can occur when the water inside the pipe thaws. Sometimes, this damage occurs in an area of a pipe hidden by a wall, creating damage that spreads without your knowledge. This issue is common, accounting for about 20% of all homeowner’s insurance claims. The average cost of a water damage claim stemming from a burst frozen pipe is over $10,000.

How to Handle Frozen Pipes

If a faucet stops working and you suspect freezing, take these quick steps to thaw the pipe and prevent damage.

Outdoor Hose Bibs

  1. Open the faucet outdoors.
  2. Locate where the water pipe penetrates the exterior wall. This is the point where the exposed pipe may be frozen. Wrap the base of the hose bib with rags or towels.
  3. Heat up the towels by pouring boiling water onto the cloth. You can also use a hair dryer to warm any frozen pipe segments.
  4. Keep an eye on the outside spigot. When water starts to trickle, the pipe is thawing. Continue to pour hot water onto the frozen area until water flows normally.
  5. Carefully winterize the hose bib and supply lines using the steps above to prevent future freezes.

Water Lines that Supply Hose Bibs

  1. Open outdoor spigots.
  2. Use a hair dryer, a heating pad, a heated blanket, or heat tape around the frozen segments of pipe to thaw the frozen water inside. Consider adding a space heater to the area to warm the room. Never use a charcoal stove, propane heater, or open flame to thaw frozen pipes. You could harm the line or generate poisonous carbon monoxide gas.
  3. When water starts trickling out of the faucet, the pipe is thawing. Continue warming the area until water flows from the faucet normally, then close the shutoff valve and winterize the supply lines and outdoor bib to prevent problems down the road.

Exterior Wall Pipes

  1. Determine the location of frozen pipes by opening all of the taps throughout your home. If you find faucets that aren’t working, locate the supply line that fuels that tap. If none of the taps in your home are working, the main water line may be frozen. Keep the faucets open.
  2. If you spot a single supply line that is frozen, carefully cut a hole in the wall with a handheld drywall saw to access the pipe. Apply heat around the pipe by using pipe tape or a heating blanket. Leave the pipe exposed to the room so it can be warmed by heated air.
  3. Keep the faucet open to give pipes the chance to drip. When you have full water pressure, the pipe has thawed.
  4. Insulate the pipe carefully to prevent future problems and patch the wall.

We Offer Help for Frozen Pipes

Dealing with frozen pipes can be tricky and difficult, but we are always here to help. Here are Jarboe’s Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, we offer 24/7/365 day support for homeowners faced with this common problem. We can spot frozen lines, check for damage, replace burst pipe segments, and even repair leaks within walls. Your home is important, and it deserves the utmost care and attention. Contact us right away if you suspect an issue.

Subscribe for Savings and Tips in Your Email!