Prevent frozen pipes
When temperatures drop, frozen pipes can burst and cause serious flooding and structural damage mold issues and more inside a home. A 1/8-inch crack in a pipe can leak up to 250 gallons of water a day into your house or business, and frozen pipes are common, affecting a quarter-million homes each winter.
Before freezing weather
The three central causes of frozen pipes are quick drops in temperature, poor insulation, and thermostats set too low. You can prepare your home in the fall to prevent frozen pipes in the winter:
- Insulate pipes in your home's crawl spaces and attic. Exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing. Remember, the more insulation you use, the better protected your pipes will be.
- Heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables can be used to wrap pipes. Be sure to use products approved by an independent testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories Inc., and only for the use intended (exterior or interior). Closely follow all manufacturers' installation and operation instructions.
- Seal leaks that allow cold air inside near where pipes are located. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents, and pipes, and use caulk or insulation to keep the cold out. With severe cold, even a tiny opening can let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze.
- Before winter hits, disconnect garden hoses and, if possible, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. This reduces the chance of freezing in the short span of pipe just inside the house.
When the temperatures plummet
Even if you've taken the right preventative steps, extreme weather conditions can still harm your pipes. Here are a few more steps you can take:
- Let warm water drip overnight, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall.
- Keep your thermostat set at the same temperature during both day and night. You might be in the habit of turning down the heat when you're asleep, but further drops in the temperature—more common overnight—could catch you off guard and freeze your pipes.
- Open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to un-insulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.
Before you leave town
- Set the thermostat in your house no lower than 55°F (12°C).
- Ask a friend or neighbor to check your house daily to make sure it's warm enough to prevent freezing.
- Shut off and drain the water system. Be aware that if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it may be deactivated when you shut off the water.
If your pipes freeze
If you turn on a faucet and water does not come out, your pipes may have frozen. Work quickly to prevent them from bursting.
- You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe using a hair dryer. Leave your faucet turned on and start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe.
- If that does not start water flowing again, leave the faucet turned on and call a plumber.
- Never try to thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame, because it can cause a fire hazard. Water damage is preferable to burning down your house.
- Do not use electrical appliances, including hair dryers, in standing water. You could be electrocuted.
If your water pipes have already burst, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve in the house, but leave the water faucets turned on. Make sure everyone in your family knows where the water shutoff valve is and how to open and close it.
The Village of Oswego is responsible for frozen water pipes in the Village's right of way, but not frozen pipes located in the home. For more information on frozen pipes, contact Village of Oswego Public Works at 630-554-3242.