How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

January 8, 2024

Freezing temperatures can cause unprotected water lines to freeze. Newer homes don’t typically have exposed pipes, except for outdoor faucets, sprinkler systems, or plumbing that has been modified to supply a garage or outbuilding. Older homes, mobile homes, and homes with unfinished areas do sometimes have pipes in unheated areas. These pipes are most susceptible to freezing.

While it is possible for underground pipes to freeze, it is not common in modern homes. The depth of the pipe installation and the material used typically prevents freezing during a normal winter. When temperatures are near zero for several days, this can however become a concern.

What Causes Pipes to Burst?

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not ice expanding in the pipe that causes it to burst, it’s the pressure that builds up between the faucet and the frozen point. If the water lines thaw before the pressure becomes too great, the pipe will remain intact. However, if they stay frozen for too long, or freeze, thaw and refreeze a few times, the unfrozen water in the pipe will eventually have enough pressure on it that it will cause a rupture. When that happens, water could pour freely from the pipe.

How to Prevent Water Lines from Freezing

Insulate Walls and Doors

First, if recurring pipe freezes are a problem, consider insulating walls and doors, add weather stripping to doors, and ensure windows are properly sealed. Though more expensive than other methods, keeping the room warm is the best long-term fix.

Insulate Pipes

Another option, insulate water pipes in the unheated parts of your home, (e.g. attic, crawlspace, and garage) by wrapping them with foam insulating sleeves found at the hardware store. If you don’t have foam coverings, consider using old towels and blankets. Be cautious of fire hazards.

Pipe Insulation and Heat Tape
Pipe Insulation (left) and Heat Tape (right) can help prevent the water inside pipes from freezing.

Add a Pipe Heater or Heat Tape

You can install (or hire a professional plumber to install) a water pipe heater or heat tape, which applies heat directly to your water lines to prevent freezing. These items can be found at most hardware stores.

Allow Warm Air Into Closed Areas

When the temperatures are expected to be especially low, leave the doors open on the cabinets under your sinks, and let water drip from the faucets. This will allow warm air from the rest of your home to circulate around the pipes to prevent freezing

Let Faucets Drip

Allowing a very small trickle of water to run at a faucet or two can reduce the risk of a pipe bursting. Dripping water can prevent pressure from building up in the lines. This is only necessary if you have a history of frozen pipes, or if the insulation in your home is poor. Newer homes don’t typically need to do this. If temperatures are near zero for multiple days, however, it is a low cost precaution.

If you do decide to take action, you don’t need to run every faucet in the house. Ideally, the faucet farthest away from where the water enters your home should drip, as well as any faucets fed by piping that is in cold or uninsulated areas of the home.

Prepare Your Home When Traveling

If you’ll be traveling or just away from home for an extended period of time during cold months, don’t set your thermostat any lower than 55 degrees. It’s also a good idea to shut off your main water supply and open each faucet to let the water drain from the pipes.

Close Doors and Windows

If water lines run through your garage or the exterior wall that connects to it, Keep your garage door closed on cold days to add an extra layer of protection from the cold air and wind. Make sure windows a weather stripping are in good shape also. Any areas such as sunrooms, mudrooms could have similar issues.

Reroute Pipes as a Long-Term Solution

If you have frequent issues with frozen pipes, you might consider a long-term fix… A licensed plumber can re-route or bury your water supply lines and interior water pipes away from unheated areas of your home. With proper planning, you may be able to eliminate all future freezes.

What to Do if Your Pipes Freeze

  • First, shut off the main water supply valve to the home or business.
  • Then, open the faucet that the pipe feeds water into (if you can determine the location of the frozen pipe). This will relieve some of the pressure in the system, and allow the water to flow as the temperature changes.
  • Next, warm up the room if possible. If you can, open doors that will allow more heat in, open heating vents, or turn on a space heater. You can then try to warm the pipes using a hair dryer or space heater near the frozen area. Sometimes hot towels wrapped around the pipe will help also. Always monitor the warming process and be aware of the manufacturer’s suggestions for proper use.

Do not attempt to thaw your pipes with items such as an open flame, blow torch, or heat lamp. These could cause a fire, electrocution, or even an explosion from a build-up of steam pressure. Be cautious of water leaking from the thawing pipes near electrical wiring and appliances. Water and electricity is a dangerous mix.

What if the Pipe Bursts?

If your pipe is leaking or has burst, shut off your main water supply and call a plumber. Shutting off the supply can limit water damage. Learn about Reddi’s frozen pipe services.

Frozen Pipe

We do our best to provide current and accurate information, but this content could contain errors or information that is not correct for your situation or equipment. Resources found on our website are provided as general information. Reddi Industries does not assume any liability resulting from the provided information. If you attempt to repair or modify plumbing, electrical, or other equipment in your home or business, always consult your equipment’s operating manual first, and only do so if you are qualified.