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Prevent Your Pipes From Freezing This Winter

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Jessica
12.14.11

You’ve always dreamed of having a swimming pool in your house like the celebrities on MTV Cribs, but you probably didn’t imagine it in your basement, caused by a broken pipe.

Let’s take a quick trip back to middle school science class. When water freezes, it expands. When that happens in your pipes, your pipes can burst. Interestingly enough, it’s actually not the formation of ice or radial expansion of ice in the pipe that causes the breakage. Rather, a complete ice blockage will cause a buildup of water pressure downstream. It’s that buildup of thousands of pounds of pressure that ultimately causes a pipe to burst.

Now, fast-forward to adult life. Your pipes burst on a cold winter night. That can translate to major property damage and major wallet damage. In fact, frozen or broken water pipes are second only to hurricanes in terms of the cost and the number of homes damaged across the country (Insurance Information Network of California). Here’s what you can do:

1) Locate your water shut-off valve and know how to use it in case pipes freeze and break. To locate the valve, find your outside water line; this usually flows directly from the water meter to a location inside of your house.

2) If your pipes are in cabinets (e.g. under a sink), it’s a good idea to keep interior cupboard doors open during cold spells to let the warm air circulate around the pipes. This is especially important if the water pipes are adjacent to an exterior wall. 

3) When temperatures drop below 20 degrees F overnight, let a faucet drip. This provides relief from the pressure that builds up. When both hot and cold lines serve a spigot, make sure each one contributes to the drip.

4) If you turn on a faucet and no water comes out, your pipe is likely frozen. Keep the faucet open, because the pipe will still need pressure relief. Call a plumber to get advice on how to safely thaw a pipe or for help with fixing the problem.

5) DO NOT try to thaw a frozen pipe with an open flame. This will damage the pipe and may even start a fire. Rather, use an electric hair dryer or portable space heater.

6) If you go out of town, leave your thermostat set to at least 55 degrees.

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