Red Cross: Winter storms and preventing, thawing frozen pipes

The Shawnee News-Star
Snow and temperatures in the single digits kept many off the roads Sunday afternoon in Shawnee.

With temperatures set below zero for a few more days the American Red Cross has steps to help prevent frozen pipes and how to thaw them safely.

“With a few more days of cold weather frozen water pipes can become a real problem and it is putting many homeowners at risk of damage to their home with burst pipes and flooding ,” said Brittney Rochell, regional communications director of the American Red Cross of Kansas and Oklahoma. “The main thing to prevent water pipes from freezing is to keep them warm and we have easy tips do that along with how to safely thaw any frozen pipes in your home.”


Protect pipes from freezing by taking the following precautions:

Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.

Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.

When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe - even at a trickle - helps prevent pipes from freezing.

Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.

If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

See additional tips online.


The following steps are suggested to help pipes thaw:

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely places for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.

Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.

Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.

Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you can’t thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.

Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.


Assemble an emergency preparedness kit. Full details here.

Stay indoors and wear warm clothes. Layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing will keep you warmer than a bulky sweater. If you feel too warm, remove layers to avoid sweating; if you feel chilled, add layers.

Check on relatives, neighbors, and friends, particularly if they are elderly or if they live alone.


If you must go outside, protect yourself from winter storm hazards:

Wear layered clothing, mittens or gloves, and a hat. Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Mittens or gloves and a hat will prevent the loss of body heat.

Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from severely cold air. Avoid taking deep breaths; minimize talking.

Watch for signs of hypothermia and frostbite.

Know the signs of hypothermia - confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. If someone has these symptoms, they should get immediate medical attention.

Watch for symptoms of frostbite including numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness or waxy feeling skin.

Keep dry. Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses much of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly away from the body.


Sudden power outages can be frustrating, troublesome and even dangerous. If a power outage is two hours of less, you need not be concerned about the loss of perishable foods. However, for prolonged outages, there are steps you can take to keep all members of your household safe and comfortable (More home power outage safety tips here):

Preserve perishable food items with ice in the cooler or refrigerator. Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers work well.

Put together a home emergency preparedness kit: water (one gallon per person per day), non-perishable food (three-day supply for evacuation, two-week supply for home), flashlight, battery-powered or hand-cranked radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible), extra batteries, first aid kit, medications, cell phone chargers, important health documents, family emergency contact information and some extra cash.

If someone at home is dependent on electric-powered life-sustaining equipment, remember to include back-up power in your evacuation plan.

Keep your car’s gas tank full.


It’s that time of year when many people resort to space heaters and other sources to keep their homes warm. To reduce the risk of heating related fires, the Red Cross recommends these steps (More home fire safety information available here):

All heaters need space. Keep children, pets and things that can burn (paper, matches, bedding, furniture, clothing, carpets, and rugs) at least three feet away from heating equipment.

If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs, carpets or near bedding or drapes. Plug power cords directly into outlets - never into an extension cord.

Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended and use a glass or metal fire screen to keep fire and embers in the fireplace. 

Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.

Turn off portable space heaters every time you leave the room or go to sleep.