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The Big Freeze: How to Prevent Frozen Pipes - and What to Do If They Freeze

frozen pipes .

From ice dams to burst pipes, plunging winter temps can lead to unexpected water damage inside your home. One out of every 55 insured homes will have a claim related to water damage or ice damage each year, according to estimates from the Insurance Information Institute. One of the most common problems is water damage from frozen pipes.

Water starts to expand when it freezes in pipes, creating a high-pressure buildup. This can cause the frozen pipes to burst, releasing hundreds of gallons of water per hour and potentially racking up thousands in damages. Not only can the leakage cause structural damage, but the water can also increase the risk of mold.

Preventing Frozen Pipes: 5 Tips

You don’t have to live in a cold climate to have problems with frozen pipes. An unexpected freeze in a warmer climate can result in frozen pipes, too. No matter where you live, the key to dealing with frozen pipes is prevention.

Three primary factors increase your risk for frozen pipes: inadequate insulation around pipes, a rapid temperature drop and a thermostat set too low. While you can’t control the weather, you can take steps in advance to help protect against possible damage. These are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Check your home’s insulation and seal leaks. Exposed or inadequately insulated pipes are most susceptible to freezing. Insulating crawl spaces and attics can help protect pipes. Start by checking for leaks around pipes, dryer vents and electrical wiring. Next, use insulation or caulk to seal these leaks. If you live in a climate prone to cold winters, keep in mind that in extreme cold, even a tiny leak could let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze. A little extra insulation can make a big difference.
  2. Use heat tape. You may also wish to use thermostatically controlled heat cables to wrap your home's pipes. Before installing, confirm that the products are approved by an independent testing organization. Comply with the manufacturer's instructions regarding installation and indoor or outdoor usage.
  3. Let the water drip. When the temperatures drop, open the faucets and allow water to drip overnight. A small trickle of warm water through the pipes can reduce the risk of freezing.
  4. Check your thermostat. If you’re heading out of town, keep the thermostat set to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Open cabinet doors. Opening cabinet doors allows warmer air to circulate around the pipes underneath your sinks and appliances.

What to Do If Pipes Freeze

Even with the right preventive steps, your pipes may still freeze. If you think your pipes have frozen but haven’t burst just yet, you still may be able to avoid serious damage. The American Red Cross recommends the following steps:

  1. If you turn on your faucets but nothing comes out, don’t panic. Leave the faucets turned on and call a plumber.
  2. While waiting for a plumber, you may be able to warm the pipes yourself using a hair dryer. Check first to ensure there is NO standing water. Using an electrical appliance near standing water could result in electrocution. If the area is dry, start warming the portion of the pipe that is closest to the sink and work your way slowly toward the colder section.
  3. Do NOT attempt to thaw a frozen pipe using a torch or open flame; doing so is a fire hazard.
  4. If your pipes do burst, immediately turn the water off at the main shutoff valve and wait for the plumber to assist.

Your homeowner's policy may protect your home's interior from water damage caused by frozen pipes. Coverage varies based on your specific policy, so it’s always a good idea to talk to your agent and determine if additional coverage is necessary. A few simple steps like wrapping pipes and leaving sink cabinet doors open can help prevent a watery mess.

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