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How to Keep Your Pipes Safe from Freezing This Winter

frozen pipe flooded homeHaving your home flooded from a burst pipe is frustrating, expensive, and spectacularly time consuming. It is a situation any homeowner would prefer not to be in, which is why it is fortunate that it is also a preventable occurrence. Proper proactive steps can be taken to significantly reduce your risk of flooding under several different conditions. Even if you find that your home’s pipes are frozen, flooding can be averted with swift recognition and responsive action. By keeping the following guide under advisement, you can avoid needing restoration services for your frozen or burst pipes.

Shut Off the Water

Let’s get the most obvious option out of the way first. If you shut off your home’s water supply and fully drain the pipes (flush the toilet, run the faucets after shut off, etc.), then there won’t be any water to freeze. No freezing pipes, no bursting pipes—simple as that. What isn’t simple is that this option may not be available to all homeowners. For instance, you may want to actually live in your house during the cold weather and water is very helpful for doing so. Furthermore, even if you plan on residing elsewhere for the winter, shutting off the water isn’t always advisable. If your property uses a fire sprinkler system, for instance, then you will want to keep it supplied.

In short: If you won’t be around for a few weeks and it is safe to do so, shutting off your water can be an easy way to keep your pipes from freezing. Otherwise, the rest of the tips in this guide will come in to play.

Mind Your Crawl Spaces

Crawl spaces are often an “out of sight, out of mind” matter, but they can represent vulnerabilities that can lead to a frozen, burst pipe flooding your basement or worse. Without proper winterization, home crawl spaces can be dens of cold air and moisture that eat away at any pipes running through the area. It can also affect air transfer through the property and lead to cold spots elsewhere in the home, creating a comfort issue as well as making it harder to keep pipes warm.

Taking proper winterization precautions is the best way to keep your crawl spaces from forcing themselves to the forefront of your mind. By cleaning out any built-up moisture, checking the integrity of joints in the pipe, installing moisture guards, and adding insulation, you can keep the crawl space pipes warm, snug, and secure.

Warm the Pipes

If you are unable to drain your home’s pipes, then the next option is to find ways to keep them warm. Check your basement, crawl spaces, attic, garage, and beneath the kitchen and bathroom cabinets for any water supply lines since these areas are unheated and particularly vulnerable. Special products, like pipe sleeves or heat cables, can be purchased and applied to keep the pipes warm. Pay particular attention to any joints or bends in the pipe since these spots are more susceptible. If you don’t have or can’t afford items like this, towels and newspapers can be employed as insulation instead. Leaving your kitchen and bathroom cabinets open (and keeping the garage shut) helps promote the circulation of warm air around the pipes as well.

Unfortunately, these tips won’t help you warm the pipes that are inside the walls themselves. For these, you can only act indirectly through your thermostat and furnace. Most thermostats will automatically lower the temperature during the night as a way to save money. While this is useful, it can also make your pipes vulnerable to freezing during particularly frigid nights. Disabling the use of lower nighttime temperatures may raise your heating bill in the short term, but it’s better than the costs from a burst pipe flooding your home.

If you will be leaving your home for a prolonged period, and you cannot shut off the water, your furnace is the best option for keeping pipes from freezing. Ensure that the temperature is set at 12.7 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher for the best results.

Use the Old Drip Trick

Leaving faucets open to allow a trickle will keep water flowing through the system and make it harder to freeze. If you plan on using this trick for an extended period, however, it is important to pay attention to weather reports. The trickling water can become counterproductive in the face of significantly freezing temperatures (the kind that gets weather warnings) since the sheer cold will be stronger than the water’s movement.

Try Smart Technology

For the more tech-savvy homeowner, there are devices available that can let you monitor the temperature of your pipes remotely. By installing a water flow and low temperature sensor on the main water supply pipe, you can have information and warnings sent directly to your smartphone.

How to Thaw a Frozen Pipe

Your first indication that a frozen blockage has developed will be a loss of water pressure along the relevant line. If you suspect a freeze, the next step is to find out where in the pipe it has developed. Sections of pipe that are more likely to freeze include those against exterior walls, where the water service enters the home through the foundation, garages, crawl spaces, attics, basements, and other unheated areas or locations with poor warm air circulation (under the sink, for example). If you can’t find or can’t reach the frozen pipe, you will need to call a licensed plumber to deal with the matter. If you can, then try the following:

  • Wrap the section of pipe in an electric heating pad or place a space heater nearby (mind any nearby flammables)
  • Warm the pipe with an electric hair dryer
  • Wrap the pipe in towels soaked in hot water
  • Turn up the house’s temperature (not the most effective, but possible)
  • Use heat lamps
  • Keep the faucet running. Not only will the water pressure let you know when the thaw has happened, the running water will help promote thawing and break up the ice

Contact Flood Services Canada for Professional Burst Pipe Flood Cleanup and Restoration

Should your preventative methods fail and your home becomes flooded by a frozen pipe bursting, timely action becomes critical. Contact professional water damage remediation specialists as soon as you can to minimize damage and maximize how much damage can be prevented. Flood Services Canada’s quick-response teams of professional remediators will drain, dry, and save your property.

Contact us at (416) 302-2107 for more information about frozen and burst pipe restoration, or use our emergency hotline at (416) 999-3930 to get our rapid-response teams deployed to your location.

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Chad Vanvari

Chad Vanvari has over 20 years of experience as a cleaning & restoration professional. He started out in Montreal, establishing a commercial carpet cleaning company in the early 1990’s. By 2001, Chad had relocated to Toronto and now had extensive knowledge and experience in responding to fire/water related emergencies. He has been instrumental in the cleanup of several catastrophic floods. Currently, Chad is the president and owner of Flood Services Canada, a 24/7 emergency service restoration company.