Don't Let Your Pipes Freeze

Thursday, January 15, 2009 - 6:23am

Madison - When the mercury plunges, the potential for frozen and/or ruptured pipes rises dramatically. The Madison Water Utility is drawing attention to this potentially serious problem and providing information to avoid tragedy during this extreme cold snap.

In extremely frigid weather, flooding can occur in homes due to burst water pipes. The flooded homes are usually vacant, or the residents are away for an extended period of time.

Situations that can cause pipes to freeze include these:
• An outside door or window left ajar, or any opening that could allow cold air to come in contact with pipes.
• Furnace failure, which can be caused by the PVC pipe vented from the furnace to the outside of the house becoming blocked by deep snow. If the vent is blocked, the furnace will automatically shut off.
• Heat being shut off or turned down to a temperature that allows pipes to freeze.
• A garden hose that is still connected to the outside spigot.

The Madison Water Utility encourages friends, families and neighbors to be on the lookout for causes or signs of possible flooding in homes they know are vacant or temporarily unoccupied. There are several things they can do to help:
• Check windows for ice buildup on the interior of the glass.
• Listen for the sound of running water inside the house.
• Look for open or broken windows or doors.
• Look for evidence of water running out of the house.
• Check the furnace vent to see if it is blocked by snow.
• If you have a key and permission to enter, go inside the house to check for flooding and to make sure the furnace is working properly.

Some tips to prevent your pipes from freezing include:
• Disconnect garden hoses. If possible, shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets.
• Insulate pipes in your home's crawl space and attic. Exposed pipes are more susceptible to freezing.
• Heat tape can also be used to further insulate pipes. Be careful to closely follow all manufacturer's instructions if you plan to install the tape yourself. Otherwise, contact a licensed plumber to install it professionally.
• Use caulk or insulation to seal leaks that allow cold air inside near pipes. You can find air leaks particularly around electrical wiring, dryer vents and pipes.
• The thermostat should never be set below 55 degrees, and if the home is to be vacant for several days, cabinets should be left open to allow the warm air to reach uninsulated pipes such as those found under sinks. Also, it is important to allow some heat to reach unheated basements.
• Make sure the furnace vent is not blocked by snow.
• If you have experienced frozen pipes in the past, on bitterly cold days you should turn on both the cold and hot taps and run a small stream of water the size of a pencil lead from one faucet in the house, such as the utility or laundry sink.

To report a flooded home, please contact the Madison Water Utility immediately at 608-266-4665. The Utility will send a technician to shut off the water by the street outside the home. If you know you will be away from your home for an extended period of time, you may also contact the Madison Water Utility at the above number and ask to have your service temporarily shut off by the street. There is no charge to shut off service but there is a $40 fee for reconnection.


  • Gail Gawenda, Public Information Officer266-9129
  • Water Emergency266-4665

Water Utility