8 Expert Tips To Prevent Pipes From Bursting In The Winter

Kenneth Wilson

No homeowner wants to deal with the stress, mess, and costs of repairing burst pipes. Unfortunately, many pipes burst in the winter season. While it's possible to prevent frozen pipes in your property, it is still likely to happen eventually, no matter how much you prepared for it.

As a responsible homeowner, here are a few essential questions you need to look into:

  • At what temperature do pipes freeze?
  • What are the reasons why pipes burst in the winter?
  • Are there steps I can take to "winterize" my pipes at home?

Don't worry. We'll cover everything you need to know (and more) to prevent your pipes from bursting.

Why Do Pipes Burst?

As the water freezes in the winter, its volume gets a 9 percent expansion at a tremendous pressure (ranging between 40 pounds psi to 40,000 psi).

Simply put, its freezing temperature causes the pipes to contract.

The expansion puts heavy pressure on your pipes, whether it is made from metal or plastic material. Even if the material is known for its durability and strength– your lines are still at risk of bursting since they cannot withhold the pressure of the expanding water.

Most specifically, the weak spot is the most vulnerable to water pressure damage. It can be located a couple of inches or feet away from the frozen area. No home water supply pipe in the world can deal with such pressure, resulting in the line breaking open, bursting, and leaving a mess.

So, which types of pipes are more at risk of frequent freezing?

  • Pipes in the home located in areas exposed to severe cold temperature, such as swimming pool supply lines and water sprinkler lines
  • Residential water supply pipes located in commonly unheated areas, such as the attic, basement, and crawl space, or the garage
  • Pipes that have little or almost no insulation running against the home's exterior walls

Remember that even such a tiny amount of ice is enough to wreck your water supply line. If you don't consider freezing pipes to be a severe problem, the disaster often manifests when the ice begins to thaw, and the water ends up pooling inside your home.

Once overlooked, this "small" mess may end up costing you thousands in costly repairs.

At What Temperature Do Pipes Freeze?

At 32 degrees Fahrenheit, water begins to freeze. However, thanks to your home's indoor insulation, the pipes inside the house will have an added layer of protection from the freezing temperature.

Even if the exterior temperature reaches 32 degrees, this doesn't automatically mean your pipes will shortly freeze.

The temperature you need to keep an eye out for is when it reaches at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit for at least six hours– as that is when the residential pipes tend to freeze.

Note that how long it takes for the pipes to freeze or burst may also heavily depend on your property's geographical location. If you live in an area with frequent low temperatures, your indoor water supply pipes may be better insulated than houses located in warmer regions.

Those in warmer areas may have residential water pipes that are quick to freeze and burst.

Expert Tips or Precautions to Prevent Freezing Pipes from Bursting

If you reach a temperature where residential pipes begin to freeze for at least six consecutive hours– take it as a sign to take action.

Usually, an early sign of ice inside your pipes is having reduced water flow in your faucet.

1. Keep Your Faucets Running

During extreme cold spells, have one or two of your faucets running. Ideally, let the water run slowly through the lines– as it makes freezing less likely to occur.

Additionally, it also stops the build-up of pressure inside the water pipes. Even when you apply heat into the area, just keep the faucets running. The water flow will eventually increase once you melt the ice.

2. Blow or Direct Heated Air to Certain Cold Areas

For your reference, most water supply pipes that often freeze are found near an exterior wall or a window. That said, use fans to blow and direct warm air towards cold rooms.

You may start doing so in your basement as you search for other pipes located in your home’s exterior.

3. Open Your Cabinet Doors

It's common for kitchen sinks to be situated on an exterior wall– so it's essential to open the kitchen cabinet doors to let warm air circulate the plumbing.

Doing so also allows the heated air to reach the pipes located underneath the sinks.

Safety tip: Since you're leaving the cabinet doors open for an extended time– don't forget to move any toxic cleaning agents and household chemicals out of children's reach.

4. Install Heat Tape

For your reference, you can opt to install a heat tape at home that is designed to keep the pipes warm amid cold, freezing weather. It will cost you anywhere from $15 and $25 per foot. The total installation cost will depend on the project's difficulty and scope.

You may opt to install it yourself, but it's advisable to consult a local plumbing professional to ensure a correct installation.

5. Use an Electric Heat Cable

Say you need to protect quite several pipes at home over a long period, you may want to consider installing electric heat cables instead.

This material is notably stiff, but it's not pliable to wrap around the pipe, nor does it shrink. Most homeowners opt for a heating tape on contours and lines with odd shapes– as it is more flexible.

Don't worry. It won't waste electricity for heating purposes around the clock. A thermostat will only switch the heat on once the temperature drops.

6. Seal any Leaks that may Allow Cold Air Indoors

Opt to seal leaks at once, as these may only be the cause of cold air finding its way inside your home. Begin with finding air leaks surrounding electrical wires, dryer vents, and pipelines.

Cover any exposed water pipe with foam insulation. It is usually available in long strips, so you can freely cut it down to the ideal size. You may also opt to have the pipe joints sealed with silicone caulk, a sealant that fills any gaps or seams to create a watertight and gas-tight seal.

It's best to avoid waiting any longer and start sealing any leaks to prevent severe problems. Keep in mind that even the tiniest opening can let cold air indoors– which may cause your pipes to freeze.

7. Maintain a Consistent Home Temperature

Take note of the different areas in your home where the water lines are situated and ensure the temperature in these rooms won't drop below 32 degrees.

You may set your thermostat to a consistent temperature in the morning and the night. While this may incur a costly heating bill, you may protect and prevent your pipes from freezing and bursting– which will only cost you more repair expenses.

Suppose you are planning to go away for a day or two in the winter. In that case, leave the heat on with a temperature no lower than 55° F.

8. When in Doubt, Consult an Expert Plumber

We can't stress this enough. Hiring a licensed plumber can help you quickly locate any possible pipe bursts to solve the issue before it goes out of hand.

Additionally, a plumbing professional will also offer their expertise so you can anticipate the precaution/tips to prevent the water pipes from freezing and bursting.

These experts may also help you with your long-term water pipe freezing protection endeavors. Projects of this scale usually take a long time, including crawl space insulation, frost-proof outdoor faucets upgrade, or possible pipe re-routing (to avoid the cold spots).

How to Protect Your Pipes From Freezing

Sometime before the cold winter season starts, ensure to protect your pipes from the freezing temperature. Here are some easy recommendations you can follow:

  • Ensure to drain any water from the swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines. Avoid putting antifreeze unless the manufacturer or installer directs explicitly. It can be potentially hazardous to all the occupants of your property and the environment. (Related: How To Winterize Sprinkler System: A Practical Guide)
  • Drain, remove, and neatly store your outdoor hoses.
  • Check the areas in the home where the water supply lines are located, such as the garage and under kitchen/bathroom cabinets, as these may be situated in unheated spaces. Consider adding proper insulation in these areas to protect both your hot and cold-water pipes.
  • Look into installing items designed to effectively insulate your water pipes, including a heat tape, electric heat cable, pipe sleeve, and other similar materials.
  • Talk to your plumber about the best recommendations in your situation. You may be advised to relocate any exposed pipes to protect them from freezing– which is something to consider.

Final Thoughts

There's no practical method to heat the ground temperature in your home. The very least you can do is to prevent the contraction brought by the cold water.

Always be mindful of your home plumbing system once the temperature and seasons change. It will help you take preventive measures and act at once to avoid freezing and bursting water pipes. Save yourself from the costly, stress-filled, serious inconvenience of dealing with burst pipes in the winter!

Kenneth Wilson
November 16, 2021
Contractor Tips, Exterior

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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