Frozen pipes lead to burst pipes, which in turn can cause thousands of dollars' worth of water damage. (Yikes.) In the colder months, water expands as it freezes, putting pressure on anything that contains it. When water in pipes freezes, it can cause them to crack and burst. From "Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook," here are eight tips to protect your pipes (and your home) this winter.
Know the Pipes at Risk
The pipes that are most likely to freeze are those that are exposed to extreme cold, such as outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, sprinkler system lines, and pipes in unheated areas such as basements, garages, and attics. Pipes that run along exterior walls with no insulation also freeze very easily.
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Let It Drip
In extremely cold weather, let a trickle of water drip from faucets served by exposed pipes (open both hot and cold valves). This will help prevent pipes from freezing.
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If you will be going away, leave the household temperature set at no lower than 55 degrees F.
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Keep garage doors closed if the garage contains water-supply lines.
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Close the inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Disconnect and drain the hose. Open the outside hose taps to allow water to drain, and keep them open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break. Drain swimming pool and sprinkler lines.
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Insulate hot- and cold-water pipes in the basement, crawl spaces, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets (a hot-water supply line can freeze if water is not running through the pipe or the water temperature in the pipe is cold). Use a pipe sleeve or UL-listed heat tape or a heat cable. Such products are available at home and building supply centers. Secure insulation with heat tape. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for applying and using these products.
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Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around pipes.
If a frozen section of pipe is visible, you can thaw it by applying heat with a hair dryer or by wrapping the pipe in towels soaked in hot water. Keep the faucet open as you work; as the ice begins to melt, water will begin to flow, helping to melt more ice. Never use a blowtorch, a kerosene or propane heater, or any other open flame to thaw a pipe: All are hazardous (they can not only cause the water to boil, bursting the pipe, but also increase the risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning).