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Frozen Pipe Prevention: How to Protect Your Home

December 21, 2023

Once the temperature outside drops below 20 degrees, pipes are more likely to freeze. Hundreds of feet of water pipes run through your home. Most of them are invisible, so by the time you recognize an issue, it’s probably already too late. For that reason, knowing several frozen pipe prevention tips is the best way to keep your water running and your home protected.

Why Pipes Freeze

We don’t need to tell you: It’s cold out there. The pipes feel it too.

When the temperature falls below freezing, the pipes lose heat to the surrounding environment, causing the temperature of any water inside the pipes to decrease. Eventually, the water will freeze and constrict the flow inside the pipe. The pressure generated by the expanding ice can become substantial, potentially reaching a point where it exceeds the strength of the pipe material and causing the pipe to burst.

6 Frozen Pipe Prevention Tips You Can Use

There are several ways to prevent pipes from freezing, most of which are relatively easy.

  1. Insulate pipes.
    Insulate pipes in unheated or exposed areas using foam pipe insulation material or heat tape. You should insulate both cold- and hot-water pipes. Don’t forget the basement.
  2. Don’t turn off your thermostat for long periods of time.
    When the temperature outside is below freezing, you should avoid turning off your thermostat, such as in a situation where you will be traveling for a few days. You can lower the temperature to save money, but turning off your system completely can cause the pipes to freeze. When you are home, you should attempt to maintain a consistent temperature to prevent water in pipes from freezing and thawing, a cycle that can lead to burst pipes.
  3. Let faucets drip.
    Allowing one or two of your faucets to drip slightly keeps water moving in the pipes, reducing the risk of freezing. Preferably, you should choose a faucet that is the farthest from your main valve, which would require water to flow through more of the pipes.
  4. Seal leaks.
    Inspect walls, ceilings, floors and doors to identify any gaps where cold air can make its way in, which may affect the temperature of pipes.
  5. Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses.
    If you haven’t already done so as a part of the home winterization steps you took in the fall, remember to disconnect and drain outdoor water hoses, and then put the hoses away safely. If you keep the hoses connected to the spigots or faucets, water in the hoses will freeze, potentially damaging the hoses and pipes.
  6. Keep the key areas of your home warm.
    Pipes near walls and windows are most likely to freeze, so if possible, direct heating vents toward these areas.

You may wish to consider installing heating cables, a system that is combined with an integrated thermostat and automatically turns on when temperatures drop below freezing.

With these frozen pipe prevention measures, you can reduce the risk of damage and inconvenience this winter.

A woman uses a cloth to capture water dripping from a burst pipe.
It’s important to take precautions to prevent pipes from freezing, which can lead to breaks that can damage structures and household furnishings.

Q& A

Question: How long does it take pipes to freeze?

  • In extreme situations, pipes can freeze within a few hours, but it typically takes longer. The time it takes for pipes to freeze depends on various factors, including:
  • The wind chill and temperature, as the lower the temperature is, the faster pipes will freeze
  • Whether or not the pipes are insulated
  • The age, durability and condition of the pipes
  • Where the pipes are located in the home (near a window, outside, etc.)
  • How often you use water in your home, as doing so keeps it flowing and prevents frozen pipes
  • The temperature in the building

Question: How do you know if pipes are frozen?

Signs of frozen pipes include:

  • Bulges or cracks in the walls or on the pipes, if they’re visible
  • Frost on the outside of the pipe
  • A foul smell from the drain or faucet due to ice formations leading to lack of water flow
  • No water
  • Whistling or banging coming from pipes
  • Strange sounds after you flush a toilet
  • Signs of water damage on drywall or ceilings

Question: Should I turn off the water if pipes are frozen?

You should turn off the water at the main shutoff valve, and then turn on a faucet to ensure water can flow through it once it’s melted. Afterward, apply heat to or around the pipe using a safe method of doing so, such as by using a hair dryer. (Do not use flammable materials.) Once the pipes have thawed, turn the water back on and ensure that it is flowing through the faucet. You may wish to check for cracks or leaks at this time.

If a pipe has burst in your home or business and you need immediate assistance, contact us at 260-217-0295. Our emergency restoration teams in Cincinnati, Ohio, and throughout Indiana are available to help you 24/7.