December 2009
Freeze Warning
Prepare pipes now to avoid big hassles later

Cold winter weather is here. And it's predicted that temperatures over the next three months will be below normal. Who wants to worry with busted pipes when it's freezing outside? Besides being inconvenient, repairing leaks can also be expensive. It pays many times over to get ready for cold weather instead of dealing with the aftermath of frozen pipes.

Take these steps to protect your plumbing system.

Before Cold Weather

  • Show adult family members the main water shutoff valve location. Teach them how to operate it.
  • Close foundation vents. If the vents don't seal well, cut foam pieces and slide them into vent openings.
  • Seal gaps and openings where pipes enter the house.
  • Protect outside faucets. Disconnect and store garden hoses.
  • If the outside faucet has its own shutoff valve inside the structure, close it and then open the outside faucet to drain water from the pipe.
  • If there's no separate shutoff, cover the outside faucet with newspaper or rags under a layer of plastic. You can also buy foam covers for this at home improvement stores.
  • Insulate pipes in unheated areas, like attics, crawlspaces or pump houses. DonŐt forget valves and fittings.
  • If you have a pool or spa, follow the manufacturer's directions on winterizing it.

When Cold Weather Arrives

  • Keep heat at 55 degrees or higher if you'll be away.
  • Open cabinet doors under sinks, especially if the sink is located on an outside wall. This allows more heat to circulate near the pipes.
  • If extreme temperatures are forecast, let the water run in faucets that are farthest from where the water supply enters the home. A small trickle should be sufficient. Use cold water to save energy.

If Your Pipes Freeze

  • Open all faucets.
  • Remove any pipe insulation and wrap pipes in rags. Pour hot water over the area, starting where exposure to freezing is greatest.
  • Do not try to thaw pipes with any type of open flame.

If Your Pipes Burst

  • Shut off the main water valve.
  • Take precautions to avoid electrical shock from being in or near standing water.
  • Call the plumber.

What About Heat Tape?

Heat tapes are plastic strips with embedded electric wires that are wrapped around pipes to keep them from freezing. They plug into standard 120-volt outlets. They're mostly used in unheated areas (attics, crawlspaces) and in mobile homes.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there are 2,000 fires, 100 injuries and 10 deaths every year involving heat tapes.

Besides being a fire hazard from improper use, heat tapes also use energy, which increases your electric bill. For these reasons, it's best to try to protect pipes by insulating them or other similar methods.

If you decide to use heat tapes anyway, make sure they're certified by the Underwriter's Laboratory and follow the manufacturer's directions to the letter.