Cold Weather Guidelines
Preventing Frozen Pipes
Even here in the south, we can experience problems from freezing pipes. Especially since it doesn't occur frequently, we may not be prepared to prevent it and deal with the problem.
When water freezes, it expands. If it freezes in your pipes, it may expand more than the pipes can take, and you can end up with a mess.
Pipes not insulated become at risk for freezing when the temperature reaches 20º F or below. Some pipes that are exposed to flowing air, as in the case of a windy day, are vulnerable at higher temperatures.
Pipes located in attics or crawlspaces are more vulnerable than those inside.
Why do pipes burst?
Actually, the ice forming inside a pipe may not be the cause of the break, it instead can cause the pressure to build up. That pressure, which can literally be thousands of pounds, can lead to pipe failure.
Although we live in a warmer climate than many Americans, our pipes may actually be more vulnerable to breaking, as they may be placed in unprotected/uninsulated areas outside buildings. Also, our awareness of freezing problems may not be as high as those who live in climates where freezes occur more than once or twice a season.
Protecting Outside Pipes
Seal all the openings where cold air may get in to the pipes. This is especially important when it comes to cold air blowing on pipes, which can lead to freezing at higher temperatures.
Home improvement/hardware stores offer foam or fiberglass insulation which can slow the heat loss. The thicker the insulation, the less amount of heat loss.
Disconnect any hoses from outside facuets and drain them. Also be sure to drain any sprinklers.
Leave an outdoor faucet flowing with a stream about the size of a pencil lead, to keep water flowing through the pipes. If ice does form, the open faucet allows pressure to escape before the pipe bursts, and if the drip stops you know that freezing may have occured. If this happens, keep the faucet open to allow for pressure relief.
Protecting Inside Pipes
You can leave cabinet doors in kitchens and bathrooms open to allow warmer air to circulate around pipes.
If you live in a home that is not well insulated, you may want to leave an interior faucet flowing. Allow a stream of water about the size of a pencil lead to flow through the faucet.
What about wasting all that water?
A faucet flowing with a stream about the size of a pencil lead equals about half of a cup a minute. If you're able to, catch this water in a bucket or a milk jug to use later to water plants, feed animals, or for household uses.
But if you can't collect the water and are worried about freezing pipes, half of a cup a minute is a lot less water than you would lose if your pipes burst due to freezing, not to mention the costs of repairs.
I think my pipes may have frozen, what do I do?
If you do suspect your pipes are frozen, call a plumber.
If you actually have a burst pipe, look for the hand gate valve, which will be located between the meter and your home. Turn it off, and call a plumber.