When water freezes, it expands in volume by about 9 percent. This isn’t just a cool scientific factoid: when it comes to the water in your home’s pipes, this phenomenon can become a very real problem.
If water freezes in your pipes, the pipes can be damaged or burst—and when that happens, water can flow into your home and cause thousands of dollars in damage.
Fortunately, there are lots of easy DIY projects you can tackle to protect your pipes. Pipes that are near the outside of your home are the most vulnerable, so pay attention to any that run along the exterior walls of the house or are in unheated areas, like the garage, basement, attic, or crawl space. Then, take the following steps to keep your home’s plumbing in tiptop shape during the coldest days of winter:
Don’t skimp to save on your heating bills. Maintain a temperature of at least 55°F, even if you’re away from home. And if you do go away for an extended time, ask a neighbor to check in to make sure no leaks or floods occur while no one is home.
If you have an attached garage, keep the door closed to stop cold air from flowing into your home.
Seal any cracks that let cold air into your home—especially around pipes that run outside—with caulk, such as our Mortite Caulking Cord that you just press into place with your fingertips. If you haven’t already done so, shut off and drain outdoor water spigots and cover with a Frost King Faucet Protector. The hard plastic outer shell and poly foam inner cover provide an extra level of insulation to help prevent a burst or damaged pipe.
During cold snaps, prop cabinet doors below sinks open to allow warm air to circulate around pipes. Let a trickle of water drip from the faucet; this small amount of running water is all that is needed to keep water moving through the system and prevent pipes from freezing.
Insulate exposed hot and cold water pipes with insulating tape or insulation. Frost King offers a variety of pipe insulation products to get this job done right. Our Pre-Slit Tubular Polyethylene Foam Pipe Insulation and Self-Sealing Tees and Elbows slip over pipes easily to form a tight seal, and they’re self-sealing so all you have to do is press the adhesive on the slit edges together to seal. This product works on all sizes of copper and iron pipes. If you want a different option, you can also wrap pipes in our Pipe Wrap Insulation Tape, a self-adhesive foil and foam tape that installs in just one step. Watch this video for step-by-step directions. An added bonus? Insulating pipes and ducts can save you up to 40% on your monthly heating bill.
If even after all these precautions you end up with frozen water in your pipes, you can thaw them out yourself, but be careful — if the pipe has burst anywhere along the line, water will flow right into your house once the ice is melted.
If you are able to locate the section of pipe that is frozen and want to fix it yourself, start by turning on faucets so the water has somewhere to go once it starts moving. Then, apply heat either by wrapping the frozen section of the pipes with an electric heating pad or blowing hot air on the pipe with a hair dryer until the ice has melted.
If you discover water flowing from a burst pipe, act fast to minimize the damage. Turn off your water at the main shutoff valve, then open a faucet to drain any remaining water and release water pressure in the pipe. Use a mop, rags, and a wet/dry shop vacuum to soak up as much water as you can, then crank up the heat and turn on a dehumidifier to dry the area out.