If the calendar wasn’t reminder enough, let those recent frosty mornings say loud and clear that winter is fast approaching and with it comes temperatures cold enough to potentially burst your pipes.
When water freezes it expands. When it freezes inside of a pipe, it can expand with enough force to rupture fixtures or even the pipes themselves. As anyone who’s had to replace plumbing knows, it’s almost always an expensive, long and often difficult process.
“Clark County has pretty mild winters compared to the rest of the country at our latitude, but we still experience days that are cold enough to damage unprotected plumbing,” Clark Public Utilities Energy Services Supervisor DuWayne Dunham said. “No matter the age or condition of your home, it’s good practice to make sure your pipes are ready for winter before the first cold snap.”
You don’t need to worry about drain pipes, just those that supply water. Water supply pipes are about an inch in diameter or less and always full of pressurized water. Drain pipes are usually an inch and a half and not always full, so freezing inside of them is less of a concern.
The pipes at greatest risk are those in unheated interior areas, like crawlspaces, unfinished basements, attics and garages. Also at risk are the hose spigots in the side of homes or outbuildings and water lines that aren’t buried below the frost line or may run above ground.
Figure out where the plumbing moves through your home, often in the crawl space or through the attic, then give it all a quick visual inspection. If those pipes are not insulated or if the insulation is there, but not looking great, take action. Pipe insulation is incredibly cheap, sometimes less than $0.25 a linear foot, and takes just minutes to install.
“Just a few dollars and an afternoon of effort is all it takes to buy lasting peace of mind–not to mention avoiding the potential headaches that come with filing an insurance claim if a pipe does burst,” Dunham said.
Once you’re satisfied with the plumbing inside the structure, move out to the exterior. Make sure there’s a good seal between the wall, external faucets or other connections. If there’s a gap, fill it with expanding foam or caulk.
Disconnect hoses from your home’s exterior. Even frost proof-faucets can rupture if a hose is connected. Foam or plastic faucet covers for external faucets are cheap and easy to install. They’ll go a long way in protecting your home’s plumbing.
If you have an automatic sprinkler system, protect it by draining or blowing the water out of your system when the rainy season begins.
When winter does arrive, always keep the heat set to at least 55 degrees — even if you’re not going to be home for an extended period — and leave interior doors open and keep the garage door shut, that will keep your plumbing warm and prevent any freezing. If your home is poorly insulated, open cabinet doors below sinks or wherever else plumbing is to allow warm air to circulate around them.
On those especially cold days and nights, running the water at a drip will prevent pipes from pressurizing and thus prevent them from bursting if they actually do freeze.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.