The bare trees and nippy air can only mean one thing – the winter is upon us. It is that time of year when we must begin prepping ourselves and our homes for the bitter cold that comes with the onset of winter. One of the most important things homeowners should do every year to prepare their property for the cold season is insulate and maintain their water pipes.
Broken water pipes are a common claim insurers see. During the worst of the 2010 cold spell, insurers in the UK saw 3,500 claims every day for damage caused by broken water pipes. Furniture, carpets, and other personal belongings, as well as the electrical system and the building structure itself, can all be damaged as a result of a burst water pipe. Save yourself the time, money and hassle of having to deal with that by arming yourself with useful information that can help prevent your pipes from bursting in the first place.
Winter-proof Your Pipes
A bit of good news about preparing your pipes for the winter is that no special skills are necessary. Everything that needs to be done can be easily accomplished by the homeowner, and that saves you from having to pay a handyman to do it. Here are several must-do items that will help prevent your pipes from bursting in the winter.
- Follow manufacturer’s instructions to drain your sprinkler supply lines and pool.
- Disconnect, drain and remove outdoor hoses, storing them accordingly.
- Close all inside water valves that were providing water to the outdoor hose bibs.
- Allow the water to drain outside by opening the exterior hose bibs.
- The outside valve should remain open. It allows the expansion of any residual water left in the pipe.
- All pipes in unheated areas should be insulated. This can include areas such as the cellar, garage, and loft.
Regarding the insulation of pipes, newspaper can offer a little bit of protection, especially in areas of the home where the cold doesn’t hit as hard. However, when possible, use products that are specifically made for pipe insulation, such as heat tape or pipe sleeves. Research products for their effectiveness, and look for warranties that may work in your favour should the insulation fail.
When the Cold Hits
Once the winter arrives, and the worst of the cold weather settles in, you’re ready for the next series of steps. First, protect any water supply lines in the garage. The pipes have already been insulated, but the garage may not be, and that makes the garage an unforgiving place for pipes in the winter. Do what you can to combat the consistently low temperatures by keeping the garage doors shut, especially if there is a laundry room or bathroom next to or above the garage. This small step will help further protect pipes from the cold.
During particularly cold spells, help warm air circulate around internal pipes by opening bathroom and kitchen cabinet doors. If feasible, remove any items that are stored inside so the air can circulate freely. The warmth from inside the home will reach the pipes, and that will help keep them from getting too cold. If a deep, prolonged cold spell is expected, consider using a space heater near the most vulnerable areas, or circulate the already warm air using a fan.
The temperature of your thermostat should remain consistent day and night. The balanced warm temperature will help prevent your pipes from bursting. Your bill may be a bit higher, but the cost will be small compared to the cost of repairing a burst pipe.
Thawing Frozen Pipes
Even after doing your due diligence, there is still a chance that a pipe will freeze. If no water comes out of an open tap, it’s quite possible that’s exactly what has happened. In that case, keep the tap open. As you clear the ice, water will begin to flow, and that helps the melting process. While you keep the tap open, turn off the main water valve leading to the house.
If you can locate the section of frozen pipe, apply heat to it in an effort to expedite the ice melting process. Obviously, don’t use an open flame (kerosene, blowtorch), but a hair dryer or space heater may work as long as there is no water leakage. You can also wrap a heating pad around the pipe. Keep applying the heat until the water pressure is back to normal, and check all other taps as well. Patience is the key.
If the frozen pipe is inaccessible, you are unsuccessful in locating it, or you cannot thaw it, contact a professional plumber. Don’t take any chances that you will cause damage. After all, that is what you’re trying to avoid.
If a Pipe Breaks
Once a pipe breaks, immediate action is necessary. Locate and shut off the main water valve to the house, as well as all taps. Additionally, depending on the location of the burst pipe, consider turning off the electricity, too. A burst pipe can easily lead to electrical damage, which would require an electrician. That is an expense you can help yourself avoid by taking precautions.
After you’ve shut off the water main, call a plumber and your insurance company right away. Unless you’re a plumber, don’t try to repair the pipe yourself. Not only could you end up causing more damage, but if you attempt a repair yourself any additional damage will not be covered by a warranty, as it would if you hired a reputable professional to do the job.
Insurance often covers broken pipes and the damage they cause. However, the hassle and heartache of losing valuable possessions goes well beyond the price tag. When you take time to properly insulate your pipes, tend to them on unusually cold days and nights, and safely thaw them out, you can avoid the aftermath of having to contend with burst pipes at all.