While I’m writing this, we’re nestled in the trademark Nashville winter — it’s a balmy 64 degrees outside, but we just came out of a deep freeze, and if the Weather Channel’s right, we’ll be back in the cold (and maybe the snow) this weekend.
While Nashville was chilled over last week, frozen pipes were once again the talk of the town. Plumbers and insurance agents can always bet on a barrage of calls from homeowners when the mercury drops that low, since ice-plugged faucets — and, unfortunately, burst and cracked pipes — are an all-too-common part of winter.
Cracked and burst pipes tend to be a bigger worry with older Nashville homes — newer homes benefit from updated codes requirements that keep water lines away from outside walls, and from PEX pipes that might freeze like copper pipes, but are far less likely to burst. But I figure any homeowner can benefit from knowing how to prevent frozen pipes, and knowing what to do if it happens.
So, here, a few tips culled from the pros:
Before your pipes freeze
Prep beforehand, ideally in the fall before freezing temperatures are likely, but certainly before meteorologists predict a frigid snap. A few things you can do:
— Keep your home at a reasonable temperature, even if you’re not going to be there. This is a common thing with holiday trips. People leave for a few days and turn down the thermostat in hopes of saving energy/money, which is admirable, but then temps drop, and a freezing-cold home helps lead to freezing-cold pipes, and an unwelcome surprise when you return. Experts say 55 degrees should be about as low as you go.
— Like the old tale says, it’s not a bad idea to let a faucet drip. Experts say keeping things flowing does help keeping pipes from freezing, and that usually one faucet — the one that’s located the furthest away from your main — does the trick.
— Opening cabinet doors is also a tried-and-true, easy thing to do that experts say does some good, allowing temperate air to flow.
— Help your pipes stay snuggly with easy, cheap DIY foam insulation. You can buy foam tubes for a few bucks at your local hardware store, and easily put them in place yourself. A good, quick bit of help for cold basements.
— Check your outdoor spigots and pipes in particular, which can be the most prone. If your hoses are still attached to spigots, detach and put them away. A cheap, insulating faucet cover doesn’t hurt, if it’s going to be particularly frigid.
— Don’t leave your garage doors open. Seems simple, but it’s easily forgotten, and can pose particular trouble for homeowners who have living space with plumbing above the garage.
If your pipes freeze
If you turn on a faucet while the weather outside is frightful, and nothing happens, a frozen pipe (or two/three/etc.) is likely. A few things you can/should do:
— Check other faucets, and see if you have a one-pipe problem, or a more widespread one.
— Turn off the water main, but leave the faucet(s) open. Once the ice begins to melt, water will start flowing, and it’ll help encourage more melting. (If you’re not sure where your water main is, it’s a good idea to locate it as part of your prep.)
— If you can locate the problem pipes, there are some recommended DIY thawing methods, like wrapping a heating pad or cloths/towels dunked in hot water around the offending spot, or using a hair dryer. Directing a space heater in the offending direction is recommended too. Just always be careful about using too many plugged-in helpers at once, in one space, and overloading circuits. Safety first.
— DON’T try to unfreeze your pipes with anything that emits a flame. That includes blowtorches, tiki torches, kitchen brûlée torches, disposable lighters with the flame turned on high… If it’s any kind of actual fire: No. (This might seem obvious, but every year, fire departments get called to homes for exactly this reason. And even if you don’t cause a fire, there’s a good chance you can cause the water in the pipes to boil, and that could lead to a pipe explosion.)
What to do if frozen pipes lead to damage
Hopefully between prep and/or simple DIY solutions, you won’t end up with cracked/burst pipes. But if you’re dealing with damage, some important steps:
— Call your homeowners insurance company to start the process of a claim. If you’re my client, call me, and I’ll help get everything in motion. (If you need home insurance, I’m always happy to help there, too.)
— Take photos of your problem areas/damage before any work’s done. It’ll help with your claim.
— The obvious: Call a reputable plumber, and start the slow walk back to running water.
Hope these tips are helpful. If you have any questions/concerns about your insurance policy and what kinds of water damage it does/doesn’t cover, I’d be happy to help. And if you’re looking for a new home-insurance policy, I’d be happy to shop for you — call or email me here, or fill out this quick form for an online home insurance quote.