Monday, January 6, 2014

Keep Pipes From Freezing

In Cleveland as I write this, the temperature is about 8 degrees below zero and predicted to drop even more overnight.  Its a night to give a moment's thought to your plumbing.  I inspect a number of houses each year where there are poorly thought out plumbing runs, through unheated attics or crawlspaces or beneath kitchen sinks that overhang the foundation.  Water pipes can freeze and burst during periods of extreme cold.  So, what can you do?

Insulation is your best defense.  Be sure that pipes and/or the spaces they inhabit are heated or at minimum insulated.  There are a variety of pipe wraps available at home centers.  You may also need to add specifically made heat cables.  Some come with thermostat controls so you don't need to worry about turning them on and off.

Also pay attention to gaps that may allow wind to enter the house near interior plumbing, around spigots etc.  Wind can contribute to frozen pipes.  Even frost proof faucets can be susceptible on bitter cold nights.  Styrofoam covers are available that attach over the exterior faucet.  A piece of tape over the spigot can help prevent wind from traveling the 12" or so to the washer in the valve.

So it's 8PM, the temperature is -10 degrees F and you're not heading out to Home Depot.

Stop gap methods include opening cabinets beneath sinks on outside walls for better warm air circulation.  You want to keep warm air circulating around the pipes, so keep basement doors between rooms open etc.  Beneath a sink, for example, sometimes a lamp with an old style incandescent bulb will aid in keeping the temperature above freezing, but use caution if there is hanging insulation or other flammable material present.  You don't want to burn your house down on the coldest night of the year!

A trickle of water, although wasteful, can prevent a much larger loss of water due to a burst pipe.  Be sure that the trickle is from both the hot and cold lines.

Lastly, know where that main water shut off is located at and be able to get to it fast, if necessary.  Most homes on a municipal water supply will have a main shut off at the water meter.  If you have a well, there is usually a shut off at your pump or pressure tank.

Stay warm and keep those pipes from freezing!


  1. Great info, some other sources says glycerol can keep pipes from freezing.

    Queens home inspection

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  3. I know that "non toxic" propylene glycol is something that would be added to the drain traps when the plumbing system is not in use. This is what is done in mobile homes and when houses are winterized. It's poured into drain traps and toilets after the water has been shut off. Just for the record, don't winterize with ethylene glycol (the kind used in autos) as it is toxic and shouldn't be going down our drains.