Take steps to prevent water pipes from freezing

OSU Extension Center
A faucet dripping water

After waking up on a cold winter morning, nothing gets the day started  on the right foot like a hot shower. However, if the weather has been extremely cold, there is a possibility that shower may have to be delayed if no water comes out of the faucet due to frozen pipes.

Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer and housing specialist, said a homeowner’s best course of action is to take steps to prevent frozen pipes in the first place.

“It’s best to take action before cold weather hits. Preventive measures can help ensure your pipes don’t freeze. This is important because a broken pipe can be costly to repair, not including the water damage your home may suffer,” Peek said. “Keep in mind water expands when it freezes, which results in a lot of pressure on your water pipes, whether they are metal or plastic.”

Check around your home for water supply lines that may be more susceptible to freezing, such as those located in unheated areas such as your basement, attic, garage and crawl space. “You might want to consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes. For example, homeowners can purchase easy-to-install foam insulation that wraps around the pipe,” she said. “Look for leaks around where the pipe enters the home and seal it up to prevent even more cold air from coming into the space. A more costly option is to install heat tape on exposed water pipes.”

Other steps homeowners should take include draining and storing garden hoses, as well as closing inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. During a cold snap, be sure to keep your garage doors closed if there are water supply lines located there. Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the pipes. If you have young children in the home, be sure to remove any harmful cleaners and other household chemicals from these cabinets. Also, make certain that the heat is left on in the home. “Another tip is to let the cold water drip from any faucets located on an outside wall,” she said. “Water in the pipes is less likely to freeze when it’s running through the pipes.”

If you do discover the pipes in your home have frozen, shut off the water. Contact a plumber for assistance. Contact your insurance company, as well if needed. Never thaw a pipe with an open flame. Remember, water and electricity do not mix. Be alert for the risk of shock in and around standing water. “If frozen pipes have continually been an issue in your home, consider having a licensed plumber relocate the pipes,” Peek said. “Also consider adding extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. What these preventative measures will cost is negligible compared to the cost of repairing a broken pipe and water damage.”