We never know when the last frigid gasp of winter is coming, or how early in the year a cold snap can start. How confident are you in your pipes’ ability to survive even one more good freeze without problems?
This is a game of roulette that no North Texas homeowner likes to play because the stakes are high: Burst pipes can cause damage totaling $5,000 or more, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. So it’s important to understand exactly what happens to your plumbing in freezing temperatures.
- As you probably know, when water turns from liquid to solid – water to ice – it expands. What you may not have considered is that the pressure exerted by water freezing can be as high as 40,000 psi at –7.6° F. This is more than enough force to cause a pipe to fail.
- We’re concerned here with the water supply pipes, not the drain pipes. Drain pipes are at least 1 1/2 inches in diameter and are usually made of plastic; they do not hold water and are not pressurized like water pipes, so freezing inside drains is not a concern. On the other hand, water pipes are small, 1 inch in diameter or smaller; the pipes most at risk are those in unheated interior spaces such as basements, attics and garages.
- Research conducted by the Building Research Council at the University of Illinois shows that the “temperature alert threshold” below which freezing pipes become a problem is 20° F, especially if you have uninsulated pipes running through an uninsulated space.
When we talk about winterizing your plumbing, we’re usually finding ways to keep pipes from getting cold enough to freeze, or limiting the water sitting in the pipes so it can’t freeze. Now that we know the basics, here are a few specific action items from our winterization checklist.
For the yard
- Cover outside faucets and pipes with insulated covers or pipe insulation, and cover them liberally. This stuff is easy to find and exponentially cheaper than burst pipes.
- Shut down and drain irrigation lines if not in use.
For occupied homes
- On severely cold nights or when there are several days of below freezing temperatures, leave open any cabinet doors on an outside wall to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. (If you have small children, be sure to move anything harmful they might get into.)
- Similarly, if you have faucets or tubs that sit near the outside wall, keep single-handle faucets open to a very slow, warm drip. (It’s harder for water to freeze if it’s moving.) If the faucet has both hot and cold taps, open both taps slightly.
- Keep garage doors closed, especially if there are water supply lines in the garage.
- If you lose power for more than an hour, you may need to shut off and drain your water heater. Make sure you shut the electrical breaker off as well; otherwise, when the power comes back on, you can burn up the elements in the empty unit.
- Even your tankless water heater is not completely immune to freezing. Its pipes do hold water, so make sure you shut the water off to the unit and drain it.
- Any time you drain a gas water heater, it’s a good idea to turn off the gas to the unit.
For unoccupied homes
- If you’re going to be away for an extended period of time, always check with your HOA or other home-governing body for their rules and regulations regarding home winterization.
- If you plan to be away for a shorter period during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F day and night.
- Shut off water meter and/or main water “shutoff” valve inside the home.
- Loosen the supply line at the meter (where allowed by local ordinance).
- Drain the water heater and any well or holding tanks other than the heating system.
- Shut off the gas or electricity to the water heater. Place a reminder note on both the water heater and the breaker stating “Do not turn on without refilling.”
- Leave all faucets and intermediate valves from the shutdown point open, including outside sill cocks.
- Put a –50 degree environmentally friendly antifreeze solution in all traps. Don’t forget any floor drains, the bar sink, the laundry room tub, the garage tub, etc.
- Place non-toxic, environmentally friendly antifreeze solution in the dishwasher drain, and run a cycle to ensure the solution has entered the pump.
- Open any sprinkler system to drain, not including the pressure purging system.
Latest and greatest: the freezeless water faucet
A freezeless water faucet features a built-in vacuum breaker that prevents water from remaining inside the faucet, so no water remains to freeze in the pipe. No water in the pipes means no damage to the pipes or undetected leaks – and none of the frustrations and potentially high repair costs that these problems cause. In other words, a freezeless water faucet can absolutely provide great protection against water damage – but it’s recommended to have them installed per the manufacturer’s instructions by a professional plumber so nothing happens to that vacuum breaker during installation.
The danger sign
When the temperatures drop low, check all your faucets every morning, if not more often throughout the day. If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, you may have a frozen pipe. If a pipe has broken, if you suspect that one has, or there appears to be some other serious problem, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve, which is usually at the water meter or where the main line enters the house. Then immediately call a reputable, licensed plumber – like Horizon Plumbing.
We’ve been serving the Metroplex for more than 30 years, and we have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. We’re proud of our upfront pricing policies, free estimates and no trip charges.