2017 is expected to start off with a brrr! as we welcome in the new year with snow and freezing temperatures. Are your water pipes protected? If they freeze, do you know how to safely thaw them?
Frozen pipes are bad news because as water turns to ice, it expands, which can burst your pipes. You end up with a huge, sloppy mess – especially if you’re not home, or if you’re asleep when it happens.
Make sure any exposed pipes are wrapped with insulation. Check all unheated spaces for pipes that might be overlooked – the attic, crawl spaces, garage, outside walls. Outdoor water faucets should be winterized by now – hoses disconnected, faucets shrouded by a foam cover.
Even if you’ve wrapped all your pipes, in a super-cold locale, leave one indoor faucet on with a steady trickle of water. Choose the faucet farthest from your main shut-off valve. Why? Moving water is less likely to freeze.
If your home has a sink against an outside wall, open the vanity door below it to allow warm air to circulate around the drain and pipes.
If you have a vacant second home, or an unheated building with plumbing (like a garage or workshop), turn off the main shutoff valve. Open all faucets and drain your water system. If your pipes are empty, they won’t burst.
I had a bad experience with that, even though I knew better. We own a cabin near Cle Elum, and each year we shut off the well and drain our water system on Thanksgiving weekend. We don’t turn it on again until late March.
But in November 2010, a pre-Thanksgiving Arctic blast caught us by surprise. Before I could drive to Cle Elum, single-digit temperatures froze our cabin’s main water pipe. It wasn’t until spring that I learned precisely where: three feet below our well pumphouse. I turned on the pump but the pressure gauge didn’t rise, and soon water began spurting out of the ground. Hours of strenuous pick-and-shovel work revealed my PVC pipe had frozen and split.
If you’re unlucky enough to have a pipe freeze inside your home, read our advice on how to safely unthaw it.