Leaks resulting from frozen pipes are the most common plumbing complaint during this time of the year. Many older houses have water pipes running beneath their walls. If you have such pipes in your house, it is very important that you prevent them from freezing by using certain tricks. Failure to do so can lead to a lot of damage. If your house is going to be vacant this time of the year, then it is best to contact a plumber and find out about the ‘winter reinforcements’ you can make in order to prevent frozen pipes. A simple thing anyone can do, of course, is to switch off the water supply to the taps. In addition to that, some simple pipe insulation techniques can also prevent the pipes from freezing.
In this guide, we will discuss some easy techniques and methods to prevent pipes from freezing. We will also discuss some easy ways to thaw frozen pipes and fix small leaks before the plumber arrives.
1. Know just how cold it has to be for pipes to freeze
Pipes can freeze in one night if the ambient temperatures reach 20 F. In Celsius, this is about minus 7 degrees. Most people want to know the minimum temperature to keep pipes from freezing; so that answers the question. If you have central heating, try and keep the temperature to a comfortable 60 to 68 F. This temperature range also helps you lower your energy bills. You can always reduce or switch off the heat while you are away provided you switch off the water as well. Always insulate the pipes with special insulation tapes if you plan on keeping the house vacant in winters. (We will discuss this in detail a little later in this guide).
2. Take care of storage tank, pressure tank, and pumps
Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to frozen pipes. If you are constructing your house it is a good idea to give a thought to this winter problem, early on.
You see, when water changes from the liquid state to the solid-state, its volume increases by nearly 11 percent. This expansion is enough to shatter any pipe, container, or machine where it is allowed to freeze. So it is important to locate your storage tanks, pressure tanks, and pumps in a place where it cannot freeze in winters. In most cases, a buried water cistern can have it’s top above the frost line so long as its outlet is below the freezing level.
3. Shut off and drain the water if your house is going to be vacant in the winter
The surest way to keep pipes from freezing is to shut off the supply at night or when you are going away for a long time for the winter or when the house is without heat. Drain the water from the faucets, and flushes. Don’t forget to drain the hot water heater and shut off its fuel supply as well. Finally, shut off and drain the house service entrance to prevent the water meter and nearby pipes from freezing.
4. Use kerosene in bowls and traps
If your house is going to be vacant during winter, pour a few quarts of kerosene in closet bowls, sinks, drains, washbowls, and bathtubs to prevent the traps from freezing and bursting in harsh winter. You can easily do this DIY plumbing trick on your own and save money not only on burst pipes but also on furnishings that could get damaged due to burst pipes.
5. Use antifreeze
Apart from kerosene, you can also use antifreeze to prevent the small amount of water in the traps from freezing. Pour 1 cup antifreeze into the sink traps and a half-gallon in toilet traps. This will save a lot of headaches and hassles down the line.
6. Use electric heating tape to insulate the pipes
Use an electric heating tape around the pipes to prevent them from freezing. Once plugged in, the tapes maintain the temperature of the pipes just above freezing. You can also buy tapes having their own thermostats that operate automatically. This is convenient since one does not have to monitor them and thermostats also help reduce your energy bills. Some plumbers recommend covering the tapes with additional insulating materials to retain the tape’s heat. (Note: do not cover the thermostat with insulation!).
7. To thaw frozen pipes
Sometimes, despite one’s best efforts, pipes can still freeze. If that happens, use the following methods to thaw the frozen pipes:
- The quickest way to thaw a frozen pipe is to use hot water soaked rags on the pipe near the faucet or tap. As the rag cools down, add some more hot water on the rag.
- You can also thaw a frozen pipe using a hairdryer, a propane torch, or an electric heat lamp. Never allow the heat source to remain in one place for too long. Regardless of which method you use to thaw the pipe, always start from the faucet and work backward towards the house water service to prevent pressure buildup. Never use an open flame to defrost the pipes as they can cause a steam explosion.
- Make sure you keep all faucets connected to the pipe open to allow the melted ice water to drain.
- Keep heat lamps and wires away from water.
8. Fix small leaks immediately
If a leak occurs due to the freezing of pipes, you can easily repair it in an emergency until a plumber arrives. Here are some methods to fix small leaks right away: (Caution: frozen pipes split open easily. So work on them carefully).
- Buy machinist clamps (available at hardware stores), a piece of rubber gas tubing split longitudinally, and a piece of heavy sheet iron. If clamps are not available, you can use an ordinary strap hinge and a large carriage bolt. Alternatively, use a compression clamp consisting of two curved metal plates hinged on one side and lined with a neoprene pad. Place the clamp around the damaged pipe and tighten the clamping bolts located opposite the hinge. This works on small holes and splits.
- Clean around the leak by scraping with a knife or screwdriver. Apply epoxy glue liberally to the leak.
- Cut out the leaky section and replace it with a plastic pipe. Use CPVC tubes designed for hot and cold water. Install transition unions to cut off pipe ends. You might have to solvent-weld the plastic pipe.
Frozen pipes are a common winter issue that can cause terrible damage. But with a little bit of precaution, one can easily avoid this hassle.