Another Cold Winter Blast: Are You (and Your Pipes) Ready?

With the temperature set to plunge this week for millions of us, I wanted to share my personal experience with the Polar Vortex and how it may help you prepare for future frigid nights. Specifically, I’m talking pipes, both protecting them and dealing with the worst-case scenario.

I’m responsible for two houses: our residence and our former residence that we now rent. Unfortunately, the rental house has no current occupants generating heat. In many places, the pipes are insulated, but there are also areas between the joists where pipes run along exterior walls.

For both homes, I took an obvious step: opening and allowing faucets to drip. And in both cases, with temps hovering around 2° F, the kitchen pipes froze anyway — UGH. It’s rough news to take preventive steps and still think you’re going to be this guy:

This was me in the dead of night, sans the gushing water.

What happened next? Two tense days of constantly monitoring the pipes to tackle any apparent leaks. Fortunately, when the pipes thawed naturally, they held. Pipes, in some cases, can withstand multiple freezes, but each time will be weaker, especially at the soldered joints.

Of course if you want to sleep like a baby, install PEX plumbing, but short of that, what else can you do? Pipe insulation and heat tape — even newspapers — are key steps to take. If you want to take aggressive steps immediately, drain the pipes of water by shutting off the main valve and opening all fixtures. You can even shut off the main water supply at the water meter with the crucial-in-an-emergency curb key.

When the temperature warms, turn the main valve back on and allow the pipes to refill. You’ll want to consider the water heater in this equation. You don’t want the water heater operating if no water is in it. If you want to keep the water heater on, after the pipes have drained, close all the fixtures again and turn the water main back on — this will trap air in the pipes (air won’t freeze) but allow water to continue to flow to the water heater. Consult a licensed plumber if you have any questions.

7 Responses

  1. My Blog says:

    The thing is it's a very common problem of frozen water pipes or the breakage of water pipes in water due to cold atmosphere and frozen water. So what we must need is a humidifier or water heater to avoid such kind of issues,

  2. IE Plumber says:

    Ouch, just like expected I winter is breaking pipes. great readings.
    Plumber Rancho Cucamonga

  3. Richard says:

    Really helpful article.

  4. FarrellMackennon says:

    Ah repairing leaky pipes is one of the biggest reasons for our emergency calls in Spring and in Winter. Thank goodness for technology though – we barely get any major damage and problems these days because so many people in the UK are pretty well prepared for the cold weather. Or maybe it's because winters just aren't as cold as they used to be, but that's a whole different topic altogether.

  5. Woody says:

    The heater should be switched off prior to the pipes being drained. At the same time, you should be careful what temperature you're running the boiler at. I've seen many immersion heaters need replacing because the temperature was turned up too high on old water heaters.

  6. The reason why you don’t want the water heater operating if no water is in it, is because the heating element will burn out. It must be submerged in water to properly cool it.

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