Now is the Time to Prevent Winter Damage to Water Pipes
November 12, 2009
Home Service Lines Can Freeze Too
Madison-After we've raked the leaves and cleaned the gutters, we want to put away the tools and curl up with a good book. But smart homeowners know they have a couple more chores to do to prevent winter damage to water pipes both inside and outside that could lead to heartbreak and expensive repairs later when the temperature drops.
When outdoor temperatures are below zero for more than three days at a time, water pipes and meters that are exposed to cold air can freeze and break. Preventing pipes from freezing is easier and safer than trying to thaw them. Now is the time to solve problems before they occur.
* All exposed pipes should be properly insulated. Common household areas where exposed pipes can be found include unfinished garages, basements, mudrooms, laundry rooms, and under the kitchen sink. Use insulating tape or molded pipe sleeve and wrap it over the entire length of exposed pipe; you can find supplies at a home improvement or hardware store. While you're at it, inspect these pipes for cracks and leaks. Locate your plumbing system's shutoff valves and make sure that you can shut off the water quickly should your pipes burst.
*Open cupboard doors in the kitchen and bathrooms. Water lines supplying the kitchen or bathrooms are frequently located in outside walls. Any air leaks in siding or insulation can cause these pipes to freeze in frigid weather. Leaving the cupboard doors open when the temperature is below freezing allows pipes behind the cupboards to get more heat.
*Let the water run if the temperature dips below zero. (A stream slightly smaller than a pencil lead width should be sufficient.) Faucets farthest from the street should be the ones left running. Using cold water will save on your gas or electric bill, and the water usage will be much less expensive than plumbing repairs.
*Before you leave for an extended winter vacation, make sure to prepare your home for the possibility of water damage while you're away. Keep the house heated, open under sink cabinets to allow warm air to reach the pipes, and allow your faucets to drip. If you'll be gone for a long time, consider calling the Water Utility to shut off the water, and possibly have your water system completely drained by a professional plumber.
*Be cautious if your pipes do freeze. If some but not all of your water fixtures are working, chances are you have a pipe inside your house that has frozen, but water is still coming in from the street. This becomes the property owner's responsibility. You can try thawing the pipe with a hair dryer or call a plumber. Don't try using any kind of open flame to thaw the pipe.
If you have lost water to all your faucets, you may have a frozen water service lateral between the street and your home. Call the Water Utility at 266-4665. According to state rules, the utility will thaw a frozen lateral only once; for any future thaws, the owner will be responsible for hiring a contractor at the owner's expense.
- Gail Gawenda, Water Utility PIO, 608:266-9129