8 Tips to Prevent Frozen Pipes

Don’t be caught this winter with frozen pipes and the headaches that come with hefty repair bills. Here are 8 winter tips to utilize when you are in a pinch or want to winter-proof your pipes.

Be prepared

“Preparation is key,” says Scott McCombe, owner-operator of Summit Environmental Solutions. “Cut some blocks out of foam insulation to block off foundation vents leading to crawlspaces and know where your water shutoff is in case of pipe breaks,” Porzio advises. Another item homeowners should have on hand is a temporary patch kit (sold at Home Depot) to seal off burst pipes as they wait for favorable weather to make a permanent repair or to hire a plumber to sweat in a new length of pipe. “Above all,” McCombe says,” find out which local plumbers are equipped and ready to handle frozen pipes.”

Turn up the thermostat

If you live in an old house built over an uninsulated crawl space, this isn’t the time to worry about your heating bill. Turning up your thermostat will increase the air temperature in the crawlspace by projecting heat energy through the floor into that space. Plan on insulating and air sealing the space. You can receive a FREE Home Energy Check-Up by Summit by calling us at 703.551.4602.

Get insulation installed

Take a ride to the nearest home center and pick up a package or two of unfaced fiberglass insulation. While you’re there, get a set of heavy duty disposable coveralls, a dust mask, work gloves and a package of fresh utility knife blades. Don the protective work wear, load the fresh blades in the knife and assess your insulation needs in the attic, crawl space or other out-of-the-way place installing insulation over poorly-protected pipes. This is one scenario where neatness doesn’t count, just get the insulation where it needs to go.

Use foam boards to insulate large areas

Got a huge area to protect? Keep the heat in with a rough-and-ready barrier built with foam board. Faced or unfaced foam board will work, especially if this is a temporary set up. If you’ve never worked with foam board, it’s easy to cut. Mark its surface with a carpenter’s pencil or a Sharpie pen. Now, score to the depth of a utility knife (if need be, score it from both sides) and snap it on the line. Hold it to wood framing with 1-1/4-in or 1-5/8-in. coarse-thread drywall screws.

Install a heating cable

Install a heat trace cable to keep a cold pipe from freezing. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the packaging for how to do this. Some heat tapes wrap around the pipe, and others merely run along it. If you can’t find heat trace cable at your local home center, try an electrical supply house. Sometimes this cable is cut to length from a roll, in which case you may have to buy a kit (or separate parts) to convert into a working heat trace cable. In other cases, the cable is ready to use, with one end safely terminated and insulated and the other end with an electrical plug.

Get a space heater

You can keep unprotected pipes above freezing by simply placing an electric heater near them. Remember, the goal is not to make the space toasty warm and comfortable. It’s to keep the water in the pipe above freezing.

Turn off the water

In the worst case, turn off the main water valve while the house is unoccupied or while you sleep. If pipe freezes and breaks, the spillage is limited only to the water in the pipe.

Open cabinet doors

It’s not unusual for plumbing running to a kitchen sink on an exterior wall to be extremely vulnerable because the wall is not insulated. Open the cabinet doors along that wall to project heat into space. Place an electric heater in front of the cabinets for an extra measure of cold protection.

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