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How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

In this beautiful midwest climate, the leaves turn deep shades of orange, red, and brown, the weather is noticeably cooler and pumpkins seem to be adorning the doorsteps of homes all around town. When we feel the cooling temperatures and see the fall colors, as Kansas City licensed plumbers, it gets us thinking about frozen pipes and what homeowners can do to prevent them from freezing. When the first cold snap hits the cold weather and freezing temperatures are here for the season!

If you don’t have one already, you should pick up a temporary patch kit from a local home center to seal off any burst pipes as you wait for a plumber to make a permanent repair. You should also know where the water shutoff valve is located in case a pipe does freeze and break. The real key is prevention to stop the potential for massive water damage, however having a patch kit on hand if your pipes freeze can help you patch the leak while you get a professional plumber out to provide a permanent fix.

Here are some ways to prevent frozen pipes:

  • If your home is older and has an uninsulated crawl space, you don’t have time to worry about the heating bill. If you turn up your thermostat, it will increase the temperature in the crawlspace, which will, in turn, project heat throughout the floor and crawlspace and help warm up the pipes.
  • If your crawlspace is uninsulated, we recommend insulating and air sealing the area.
  • Head on down to the nearest Lowe’s or Home Depot and pick up some unfaced fiberglass insulation. While you’re at it, pick up a dust mask, a pair of coveralls, and a package of utility knife blades. After putting on the protective wear, determine what parts of the attic, crawl spaces and other places need insulation for unprotected pipes. Neatness isn’t as important as putting the insulation where it needs to be.
  • If you have a large area to protect, you can help keep the heat in by using foam board to insulate the large area. Luckily, foam board is easy to cut; all you have to do is mark the surface with a Sharpie pen or a carpenter’s pencil and cut it with a utility knife, then snap it along the line. We recommend holding it to wood framing with coarse-thread drywall screws ranging from 1-1/4 into 1-5/8 in.
  • You can install a heat cable, which can prevent the cold pipe from freezing. If you can’t find one at the local home center, you can check out an electrical supply company. Heat tape (of heating pad) can be a great way to keep long runs of pipe from freezing and a great pipe insulation and prevent the situation where your pipes freeze.
  • Sometimes simply running the faucet at a very slow amount, can be enough to prevent the water from freezing because running water does not freeze as easily. When you open the faucet, it does not need to be opened wide, but just a simple, steady small faucet drip, which may help prevent pipe bursts or damage because a water drip is still moving water!
  • A temporary, inexpensive method to stop a pipe from freezing is to place an electrical space heater near unprotected pipes. Remember, the goal is to keep the water in the pipes from freezing, not to keep the room toasty and warm, so just place the space heater in front of the open cabinet and set the heat on just to keep the temperature high enough to prevent the situation where water freezes on that section of pipe. (Please do NOT HAVE AN OPEN FLAME FOR HEAT that is left unattended
  • Don’t forget outdoor hoses – these garden hoses can freeze much more quickly and if they are attached to the outdoor faucet (or hose bib), it can create a problem.
  • If you’re going to head out for a few days or longer, locate your main shutoff valve, and you can turn off the main water supply valve. You can also do this at night while you sleep. If the pipe does freeze and break, the spillage will only affect the water left in the pipe overnight.
  • If you have a sprinkler system, drain the system and have it winterized – which involves running an antifreeze type solution through the water supply lines to the sprinkler system, to prevent expansion and the pipe burst.
  • Make sure your garage doors are sealed, as any faucets or water pipes in the garage may be exposed to freezing temps. 

If you have plumbing that runs to your kitchen sink on an exterior wall, those pipes in the unheated areas will be more vulnerable to freezing because they are not insulated. What you can do is open the kitchen cabinet doors and place an electric heater in front of them to prevent those uninsulated pipes from freezing (as well as running the faucet with a very small steady stream).

If you discover you already have frozen pipes, grabbing a hair dryer and heating the exposed pipes can start to melt the blockage in the frozen section you can access. Sometimes a hair dryer is not enough and professional plumbers can also use blowtorches to heat up extremely frozen water pipes.

We hope this information helps. If you need help winterizing your plumbing, don’t hesitate to contact A-1 Sewer & Septic Service Inc. to schedule a service call!