7 Ways to Avoid Winter's Worst Home Disaster

The big freeze has many homeowners scrambling for insulation and space heaters. But some of the most important areas to examine in the home are the plumbing pipes, both inside and outside of the house. Because when it comes to severe winter threats to your home, frozen pipes pose one of the most dangerous and costly problems. While the problem is most common in the Northeast and Midwest, frozen pipes can occur in all regions of the country. So if you're at risk, check out this checklist to help you prevent this hazard from striking your home.

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  1. An Ounce of Prevention


    Be prepared for catastrophe by identifying where your plumbing pipes are run, and locating water shut-off valves. Make sure you have easy access to the main water shut off in case of emergency. Call a pro to have your heating and plumbing system serviced each year so that small problems don't turn into larger issues down the line.

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  2. Why & Where Problems Arise


    Water expands as it freezes, putting tremendous pressure on pipes. The pipes most susceptible to freezing include outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, and pipes in unheated areas like basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages, or even kitchen cabinets.

    Related:  11 Ways to Winterize Your Home on a Budget


  3. Drain & Open


    All outdoor water lines to swimming pools and sprinkler systems should be drained in the fall. Also remove and drain hoses and shut off valves to outdoor hose bibs. It should go without saying, but never put antifreeze in outdoor water supply lines! This is no way to prevent frozen pipes, and is harmful to children, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.

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  4. Insulate, Insulate, Insulate


    Water pipes located in unheated exterior walls, basements, crawl spaces, or garages should be well insulated with sleeve-style pipe insulation to prevent freezing. It will also help your wallet—and your pipes—if you ensure all rooms are properly insulated and gaps in leaky windows and doors are closed to prevent blustery drafts.

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  5. Heat Exposure


    The main thing is to make sure your pipes remain sufficiently warm throughout the winter. That means keeping cold air out, or bringing warm air to your cold pipes. For instance, consider installing heating tape or heat cables to keep pipes protected. If it is very cold and you've no other recourse, leave the faucets open so that a trickle of water runs through; this will help prevent pipes from freezing.

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  6. What If?


    If, in spite of all precautions, your pipes do freeze, keep the faucets open—the flowing water helps melt the ice. Apply heat to the frozen sections of pipe using an electric heating pad, a hair dryer or a portable space heater until full water pressure is restored. Never use a blowtorch, propane heater, or other open flame.


  7. Look To The Future


    If one pipe has frozen, that means others may be susceptible as well. To be sure, check all of the faucets in your home. Consider a freeze alarm; for less than $100 you can install one that will alert you by phone if the inside temperature drops below 45 degrees. And be sure to consult a heating and plumbing pro to discuss how a renovation could prevent frozen pipes in the future.


  8. Innovative Solutions


    There are a variety of products that you can install to help prevent frozen pipes. Install a hot water recirculation valve can o continuously circulate warm water throughout your hot and cold water lines anytime the temperature falls below a set temperature. Or place an ICE-LOC in any plumbing system; they absorb freezing pressure to protect frozen pipes from rupturing or bursting. Alternatively, a RedyTemp will monitor your pipes' temperature and intermittently circulate water throughout the system.


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