Prevention and Management of Freezing Pipes During the Polar Vortex

With the polar vortex bringing record low temperatures to much of the United States, freezing pipes could be a reality for many homes. Although homes in the northern part of the country are facing the lowest temperatures, it is the homes further south that are more at risk. This is because homes in the north are built for the cold, while homes further south are not.

How does one know whether their home is at risk of freezing pipes?

Pipes that are not insulated, or are located in an attic, basement, garage, or along outside walls are at risk of freezing. In addition to freezing temperatures, extreme wind chills can increase the likelihood of a pipe to freeze. Pipes can be at risk of freezing with outdoor temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. As a general rule of thumb, the colder it is outside, the more at risk pipes are of freezing.

How can frozen pipes be prevented?

Insulating water pipes that are located in unheated areas or along outside walls is a great preventative tool to avoid frozen pipes. According to Consumer Reports, insulating pipes could cost as little as 50 cents per linear foot- well worth the investment.

If there are water pipes in a garage, keep the doors closed. This will keep the pipes protected from unnecessary frigid temperatures.

If there are sinks along an exterior wall, open the cabinet doors underneath the sink to allow warmer air to circulate.

Allowing faucets to drip keeps the water flowing, albeit slowly, and can help prevent pipes from freezing.

Never set the thermostat lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit, even if no one will be in the home. Additionally, consider keeping the thermostat at a consistent temperature during the day and night.

What should a person do if the pipes have frozen?

When the water from a faucet is reduced to a trickle or doesn’t flow at all, there is a chance the pipe is frozen. The first thing to do is try and thaw the pipe. This should be done with caution, because if the pipe has burst or ruptured, as it thaws it will leak water into the home.

The following steps should be taken to try and thaw a frozen pipe:

  • Turn on the faucet to allow water to flow through as the pipe thaws
  • Heat the pipe using whatever items are on hand. This could be a hair dryer, portable space heater, a heating pad wrapped around the pipe, or towels soaked in hot water wrapped around the pipe. Do not use any heating devices with an open flame, as these are unsafe
  • Continue heating the pipe until the water flows freely at full pressure

Once the pipe is thawed, check the other faucets and pipes in the home for any other frozen pipes. Additionally, check the thawed pipe for any of the five most common plumbing leaks in your home. Frozen pipes could cause any number of issues, and it is best to catch them early before water damage occurs. These common plumbing leaks include:

  • Leaks around drains, which can also be affected by freezing temperatures
  • Leaks around water heaters, especially the pressure relief valve
  • Dripping faucets, which are especially susceptible after a frozen pipe
  • Leaks around the dishwasher, which could be affected by a frozen drain
  • Leaks in or around the toilet, which can cause major water damage if not caught early

If all else fails, call a plumber.

There are times when it is best to call a professional to handle the situation. If water does not flow freely after thawing a pipe or water to the home seems sluggish, there could be another underlying issue. Additionally, if water or sewage begins to back up into the home, a drainage pipe could be frozen. Both of these situations would be better served by a licensed plumber who can assess and treat the issue quickly and efficiently.

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