How can I avoid frozen water pipes?

If temperatures are very low, owners may encounter frozen water pipes. As the water in pipes freezes, it expands and breaks connections or cracks the pipe. This can occur in pipes located in an uninsulated crawlspace or outside walls, or even inside homes when there are very low temperatures for an extended period. Once the weather warms and the pipes thaw, these breaks and cracks can begin leaking water. This can cause significant water damage in or around your home.

You can take several steps to protect from frozen pipes. Be sure you understand the impact to your heating system, water heaters, etc., before you implement any of them.

  1. Keep the heating level of your home at a temperature you know will keep water lines from freezing. This may only work if electricity is on at your home. If there is a power failure, it may not take long for your home to reach freezing temperatures – your water pipes included!
  2. Install a smart thermostat to keep you advised of the temperature inside your CMA home. Many of these use a WiFi connection to the internet and can notify you via email, text message, or phone call when the temperature drops below or rises above a set level.
  3. Turn off your water at the main shut off whenever you leave for an extended period, particularly during winter. Every home should have an inside shut off. Often it’s in your basement or crawlspace. Some owners install an additional shut off in a convenient location. If you don’t have a shut off, you should have one installed for use in a water emergency. If you don’t know where your shut off is, find it, tag it, and use it!
  4. A water shut off doesn’t protect from water already in your pipes, so it’s a good idea to drain your water lines when your going to be away. First, shut off your water heater (otherwise, you run the risk of damage if the water level drops low enough); second, turn off the water supply; third, open the cold and hot taps on each faucet and flush each toilet, starting at the top level of the home and ending at the lowest level.
  5. Install heat-tape on troublesome or outdoor water pipes (never install heat-tape inside a wall). Note that heat-tape only works if you have electricity – during an electric outage it offers no protection. Also, if outside, check it regularly for animal chewing as it can become a fire risk.
  6. When you return, close all faucets and turn your water shut off to the “on” position. Listen for sounds of running water. It’s common to have some sounds from water pressurizing your pipes and topping off your water heater. Any sound of running water after a few seconds needs your immediate attention. Finally, turn your water heater back on (if you use gas, be sure to follow proper procedures to relight the pilot).

Owners are responsible for water pipes from their residence meter to their home and throughout their home. The supply line from the meter is normally buried below the freeze line, bedded in rock-free soil or gravel, and/or sleeved with a larger protective pipe under driveways. The pipes in your home are protected from freezing only by the home’s insulation and temperature or by shutting off the water and draining the pipes.

For more information, check out the Red Cross website information on preventing frozen pipes. If you need a plumber, you’ll find a few listed under Suggested Contractors (CMA does not endorse any contractors). You may also find useful information in the CMA Google Group.