If you live in the Elizabethtown, PA region, the arrival of winter weather poses a silent threat to your home. As the cold temperatures slowly set in, one of the biggest risks to property damage in Pennsylvania is frozen pipes. To protect your home against costly repairs and water damage to walls, floors and valuables, it pays to get educated on the dangers of water freezing inside pipes and learn how to avoid a plumbing catastrophe.
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When pipes freeze, you may lose access to running water. Think about how often you use water — to take a shower each day, to wash your dishes, to drink water and to cook food for your family. Frozen pipes will prevent the flow of water in your pipes and could even cause your pipes to burst.
As water freezes, it expands and could rupture your pipes. Pipes typically don’t burst in areas that contain ice. Rather, the water pressure that builds up causes the pipes to burst. Your attic, basement and garage are most vulnerable to pipe eruption because pipes are typically exposed in these areas of the home. You could also experience pipes bursting in other parts of the home, even if you have proper insulation.
If your pipes burst, your home can suffer from water damage and flooding. To protect your home, you need to learn how to keep pipes from freezing and then take the proper precautions.
Tips to Prevent Your Pipes from Freezing
In Pennsylvania, the temperature often reaches below freezing in the winter. The minimum temperature to prevent frozen pipes is 20 degrees. Once the temperature drops below 20 degrees, you should protect your pipes from freezing and bursting by efficiently controlling the temperature inside your home
Your first line of defense to avoid pipes freezing in the winter is maintaining the appropriate internal temperature throughout your home. You may have to walk through your home and look for any vulnerable pipes and spaces that are more prone to lower temperatures. Follow these tips for the best ways to keep pipes from freezing.
Ensure Pipes in High-Risk Areas Are Properly Insulated
Proper insulation will protect pipes from freezing. Insulation is relatively easy to install, but a professional plumbing company could also come in and install it for you. Although insulation will control the temperature of your pipes, exposure to prolonged freezing temperatures could still freeze your pipes.
You can use fiberglass insulation sleeves, polyethylene covers or foam covers to insulate your pipes. In case of an emergency, you can also use duct tape and newspaper, but be sure to replace this type of insulation with a more permanent one when you have time.
Seal Cracks and Openings in Your Home
During the winter, cracks in your windows and door frames, as well as cable holes, could let a draft into your home and lower your indoor temperature. If you notice any cracks or holes, seal or caulk them to protect your pipes and your home’s insulation. You should seal both the interior and exterior sides of your walls for optimal protection.
Keep the garage door closed, especially if your water supply lines go through your garage. You should also check dryer vents and water pipes since they run from the exterior of the home to the interior of your home.
Use Electric Heating Tape on Exposed Pipes Running Through Attics and Basements
Heating tape acts as a warm blanket around your pipes to keep them warm and cozy during the winter months. If you can access your pipes, wrap heating tape around the pipes in unheated areas of the home — such as the attics or the basements — to help them retain heat. Heating tape is safe when used properly, so make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use.
You can choose from two types of heating tape for your pipes. Self-monitoring heating tape has a sensor and can turn on and off depending on when the pipes need heat. Manual heating tape needs to be plugged in when the temperature drops.
Maintain the Appropriate Internal Temperature
You should keep your thermostat temperature consistent throughout the day and night. Although you may want to lower the temperature at night to save money, a burst pipe will cost much more money than a couple of extra dollars on your energy bill. Keep your heat on during the winter, especially during nights below 20 degrees in your Pennsylvania home, to protect pipes from freezing and bursting.
To maintain your internal temperature, you should also keep interior doors open during freezing days. Since your pipes are most likely located in your cabinets, especially on an exterior wall, keeping your cabinet doors open can help regulate the temperature in your home. When you keep your kitchen and bathroom cabinets open in freezing temperatures, hide your cleaners containing harmful chemicals to protect your children. You could also keep your bedroom and bathroom doors open to allow heat to flow through your whole house.
If your heat runs out, you can use a space heater to heat a particularly cold area in the house. For vulnerable pipes, blow hot air on them with a hairdryer.
Does Running Water Stop Pipes From Freezing?
Running water is less likely to freeze than standing water. Allowing your water to drip also relieves water pressure from inside the pipes to keep them from bursting. During bitter cold weather, leave the faucets running in your home so you can protect pipes from freezing.
When your faucets are fed by exposed pipes, you should turn your faucets on — using both hot and cold water — to let your water drip. If you have a single-handle faucet, run your water hot. For a preventative measure, you could also invest in frost-resistant faucets outside the home or have a plumber rearrange the pipes in your house so they are not facing an exterior wall.
You should let the faucets drip in your kitchen, bathrooms and laundry room. You can let the faucets drip overnight to avoid freezing during the drop in temperatures after the sun goes down. To avoid pipes freezing in the house during a power outage, you can also flush your toilet every once in a while to keep water running through the pipes.
Utilize a Backup Power Generator
In case the power goes out during a winter storm, you should have a backup generator to keep your house warm. In a severe storm, you could lose power for days, leaving your pipes vulnerable to extremely cold temperatures. Freezing pipes during a power outage could also result in a sewage backup and pipes bursting. Having a generator working during a winter storm also protects your home from sewage problems.
You can choose from a wide selection of backup power generators depending on your home size and location. While you could install a generator yourself, you should consult with a professional contractor in Lancaster and the surrounding region to determine which type of generator to buy and how to install it on your home. Throughout the year, you should schedule generator maintenance to make sure your generator will work in case of an emergency. Since generators typically emit carbon monoxide, you should place your generator outdoors and away from windows.
Put Away Garden Hoses and Winterize Any Outdoor Fixtures and Faucets
To prepare your house for the winter, disconnect and store your garden hose. Even garden hoses that are labeled as frost-resistant can burst in extremely cold temperatures. Drain the water pipes that hook up to your garden hose and other outdoor water fixtures. You can use a drain valve to drain your water pipes so that outside water doesn’t flow inside your home.
How to keep your pipes from freezing while on vacation
To stop your pipes from freezing while on vacation you should set your thermostat to a minimum of 55 degrees Fahrenheit and replace the batteries in your thermostat before your trip. You should also turn off your sprinkler system and your indoor water supply while you’re on vacation if the forecast predicts freezing temperatures.
If you have a connected thermostat, monitor it on your phone to make sure there are no sudden temperature drops in your home that could freeze your pipes. You could also ask a trusted neighbor to check on your thermostat and water supply periodically while you’re away on vacation. Before you leave for your vacation, walk through your house and explain what to inspect throughout the week.
How to Keep Your Pipes From Freezing During a Power Outage
First, turn off the valve that allows water flow in your home. Next, open all faucets and keep them open until the pipes are empty. Finally, flush all of your toilets and pour denatured alcohol into sinks and toilets to prevent water from freezing.
What to Do if Pipes Are Already Frozen
Frozen pipes are a wintertime risk for homeowners in the Hershey, Harrisburg and Mount Joy region of Pennsylvania. To avoid frozen pipes or burst pipes that can cost thousands of dollars to repair, consider the signs and preventative measures you should take. In the following situations, you should check your pipes to prevent them from freezing or bursting:
- Before you leave for vacation, you should check your pipes as a precaution
- When the temperature dips to 20 degrees Fahrenheit or lower
- When water isn’t flowing from the faucet or only a trickle comes out
- When you see frost or ice buildup on exposed pipes
- When you smell oil or gas coming from your pipes
Typically, residential pipes will only freeze if they are directly exposed to external elements, left in an extremely cold environment or under-insulated. Prevent freezing pipes by covering pipes where freezing may occur, including:
- Pipes running through exterior walls, especially in houses that are poorly insulated.
- Exposed pipes and sprinkler lines in areas that are often under-heated, such as a basement or attic.
- Pipes exposed on the exterior of the home can burst and cause extensive damage to your property and your interior plumbing system.
If you suspect that your pipes are frozen, before trying to thaw them, locate the source of the freeze. Usually, only a portion of your pipe freezes, so you should find out where there is ice buildup in your pipes. You can see the portion of your frozen pipe if you have access to it, but if a pipe is frozen inside your wall, you may need to call a professional to help you thaw it.
How to Thaw Frozen Pipes
If your pipes are still intact, you should keep your water supply on and turn on the faucet — using both the hot and cold water handles — to the highest capacity. Even if your water is cold, running water is a higher temperature than ice, so it can help melt the frozen pieces of ice in your pipe and relieve pressure buildup in the pipes.
To thaw your frozen pipes, whether they have burst or they are unharmed, you should:
- Start near the faucet and work down: As you thaw from the faucet to the source, the water and steam will flow near the faucet and out of your pipes.
- Heat the frozen section of the pipe: You can use a heating pad, a space heater or a hairdryer to thaw your pipes. Using any equipment that produces fire — such as a propane torch — is a potential hazard and could further damage your pipes.
- Wait for full water pressure: You know your pipes are thawed when water freely flows from the pipes. You can apply heat to your pipes until you feel your water flowing at full water pressure. After you thaw one pipe, check the faucets in the rest of your home to make sure there are no additional frozen pipes.
- Thaw pipes inside your walls: To thaw pipes that are inside your walls, you could turn up your heat, use an infrared lamp or cut out a section of the wall if you are comfortable doing so.
What if a Pipe Bursts?
If your pipes are frozen and they have already burst, you need to take extra precautions while thawing your pipes. The first step to thawing your frozen pipes is to turn off your water supply. When your pipes freeze, the water in your pipes is frozen, but once you thaw the pipes, all the water that has built up will gush out and flood your living space. When thawing burst pipes, have a mop, bucket or towel ready in case the frozen water thaws and spills onto your floors.
Contact a Local Plumbing Professional if You Suspect a Pipe Is Damaged
While there are many tricks and quick fixes for dealing with frozen pipes, you will be more safe and successful if you hire a professional plumbing company. Our team at Home Climates in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania will inspect your pipes for leaks and bursts and will repair your plumbing as needed.
If you live in Central Pennsylvania — including Elizabethtown, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Mount Joy and Lititz — and you detect frozen pipes in your home, call us at 717-689-4151 or fill out a contact form right away. We’ll provide expert advice on appropriate first steps for mitigating dangers and promptly schedule an appointment for a free assessment today.
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