Preventing frozen pipes

Jan 10, 2024 | Mountain Emergency Updates

Frozen pipes: Being properly prepared for winter may prevent this from happening to your home. (Contributed photo)

By DOUGLAS W. MOTLEY

Senior Writer

Last week’s snowstorm, though not overwhelming, may be a precursor to what’s coming our way this winter. This is a good time to prepare for what may be coming by winterizing your home, especially if you are going to be away from the house during a storm.

Pipes with water in them can freeze and, since water expands when it freezes, this can result in broken pipes which, when they defrost, can lead to a flooded home, which, unfortunately, is often not covered by insurance.

Winterizing a home lessens the risk of frozen pipes. Some people leave their faucets dripping at night when it is below freezing, not allowing the water to sit and freeze in the pipes, or they leave the door under the sink areas and rooms with water open to let the heated air reach the pipes. However, the best way to not allow pipes to freeze is to be sure they are insulated.

Most mountain area homes should already have insulated pipes in buildups and unheated areas, but check now and, if not, add insulation around them, because frozen pipes are not a fun way to spend a winter’s day.

In that buildup, seal all air leaks to unheated, enclosed areas so chilly winds don’t blow in and freeze exposed pipes. Remember, even an incandescent light bulb in a sealed area or water heater compartment may create enough warmth to keep pipes from freezing.

When leaving a house for a long period of time in the winter, be sure the home’s heater thermostat is set at 55 degrees; that may keep those inside-wall pipes from freezing and bursting. However, before allowing your heater to be on while you are away for a long time, get it inspected before leaving it on all winter.

Most homes serviced by the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District are required to have customer water shut-off valves to the house. Anyone planning to be gone for even a couple of days should winterize their home by draining all the water from the pipes, especially if below-freezing temperatures are predicted. LACSD recommends turning off the water to the home at the valve and open all faucets, draining the water from the pipes, then close them again before leaving. This includes your outdoor irrigation systems and hoses.

Vacant homes and homes for sale are especially at risk for broken pipes. However, good local real estate agents up here insist every home on the market be winterized for safety. If the house was not winterized, when a new homeowner buys up here, an inspection of the pipes should be conducted before closing.

If a pipe does freeze, calling a plumber is a good idea, but there are a couple of “do it yourself“ (DIY) ways to deal with it immediately. Thawing a frozen water pipe quickly is important but thaw it correctly. First, you must locate where the water is frozen by turning on the faucet, if no water or only a slight trickle escapes, then a pipe leading to the faucet is likely frozen. If the pipes are exposed, the frozen pipe may bulge or have frost on it. Next, open both the hot and cold handles to relieve pressure in the system and allow the water to flow once you thaw the pipe.

Begin the thawing process technique nearest the faucet and work down to the blockage, allowing melting steam to escape through the open faucet. Continue until the water from the faucet is flowing at full strength.

The easiest DIY way to thaw a pipe is to use a hairdryer and simply point the heat at the pipe, defrosting the pipe starting at the faucet. Another method to use a heat lamp or portable space heater device warming the area so that the heat is reaches the frozen pipe. Or wrap hot wet towels around the pipe, to slowly warm the icy pipe. A final option is to apply electrical heating tape directly to the pipe.

When the frozen pipe is located in an area not easily accessible, you probably should call a plumber; however, there still are other options for thawing that pipe. Until the plumber arrives, turn up the home’s heater thermostat, which might allow the ice blockage to melt, or place an infra-red lamp pointed at the wall where the pipe is located.

Cutting out a section of the wall in front of the frozen pipe may be necessary to access the pipe to remove it if cracked, or to thaw it. However, never use an open flame for thawing it as it may set the building on fire.

If a frozen waterpipe does leak, crack or burst, consider shutting off the main water line into your property. Every homeowner should know where their master water shutoff valve from the street is located. However, never turn it off unless it is an emergency, because once turned off, the water company must turn it back on. Doing so will prevent additional water from flowing and flooding the building. Be aware that any water lost though a broken pipe is the property owner’s financial responsibility.

If broken or frozen pipes are beyond a DIY situation, call a professional plumber immediately.

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