5 Ways To Keep Your Pipes From Freezing When The Temperature Falls

Burst pipes are another unpleasant surprise accompanying a cold snap. Here's how to defend yourself.

Illustration: Aleutie | iStock image

Temperatures may be rising (slightly), but don’t pack up your mittens just yet. During brutal cold snaps, many Philadelphians find the true victim of the freezing temperatures to be their pipes. Joseph Giannone, owner of Joseph Giannone Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning, offers these tips to keep your pipes in working order during the next cold spell.

  1. Know your home. Every house reacts differently to the cold. Gianonne advises homeowners to keep in mind how their property has responded to past winters. “It’s a matter of knowing your house,” he says. “Who actually built the home? Is it a reputable contractor?” Those living in newly built or rehabbed houses, be warned — this is where Giannone sees the most cases of pipes freezing.
  2. Watch the thermostat… Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but that’s not necessarily the temperature at which your pipes will freeze. The temperature outside, the temperature at which you keep your heating system, and your level of insulation all play a role in whether or not your pipes will freeze. A good rule of thumb is to start to paying attention when the weather report calls for temperatures below 25 degrees. “That’s when we start getting calls,” Gianonne said.
  3. …and plan accordingly. And when the forecast calls for bone-chilling cold, fear not; there are steps you can take to protect your pipes from freezing. The American Red Cross recommends using UL-listed “heat tape” or pipe sleeves to insulate exposed pipes. It also recommends running water through the faucet connected to exposed pipes; even a trickle may prevent the pipes from freezing. Unfortunately for your heating bill, the thermostat should be set at the same temperature day and night. It’s tempting to save a few bucks by lowering your thermostat at night, but if you compare the money you save versus the price of repair if your pipes freeze and burst, you’ll think twice about reaching for that dial.
  4. Invest in preventative maintenance. Check-ups are not just for the doctor’s office. To make sure your pipes are able to endure the winter, yearly plumbing maintenance checks are recommended. Having a home energy audit done is also not a bad idea. An energy auditor can perform the assessment of your home, which includes checking your pipes for leaks, examining the insulation, inspecting your furnace and ductwork, and measuring airtightness by performing a blower door test.
  5. Know how to thaw your pipes if they do freeze. If no water or only a trickle comes out when you turn on your faucet, minimize the damage by shutting down the main water valve and then draining the water out of the pipes. It’s important not to leave the water running. “That’s not good,” Gianonne said. “If there’s a crack in the pipe, it will start leaking.”

With the rest of the winter ahead of us, make sure you and your pipes stay warm.