Sure, Houston is known across the country for its hot and humid weather, but we experience some cold temperatures in the winter. Although our friends in the north and Midwest may laugh at what we think of as “cold,” it still gets chilly enough here that you need to take the right steps to protect your plumbing and your home for winter.
Having your heater inspected in the early fall is the most important thing every homeowner should do in preparation for lower temperatures. But when it comes to your plumbing, there are certain steps you should take before a big freeze to ensure all parts of your plumbing system make it through. Not taking the proper precautions could result in frozen pipes that have the potential to burst, which will end up costing you lots of money.
“Wind and cold air are what freeze pipes, and by properly covering up all exposed pipes from the wind you are taking the right steps to make sure your pipes don’t freeze up and burst,” said John Moore Services Senior Operations Manager Joe Bany. “Protect your plumbing by protecting pipes from the wind is key. The wind chill is colder than the outside temperature and when it reaches a certain degree, it can destroy all unprotected piping.”
Protect your plumbing before a freeze?
Wrap up all pipes and hose bibs outside that are exposed: All pipes, hose bibs, and sprinklers that are exposed to the outside elements are vulnerable to freeze if not properly wrapped AND insulated. Many people wrap a towel or newspaper around an exposed pipe thinking that it will be enough to keep it from freezing, but this is not the case.
“Using a towel to protect an outdoor pipe is a horrible idea because towels and newspapers hold moisture,” said Bany. “Basically it is like covering your pipe with a wet rag, and that only increases the freezing process. There are materials that are made specifically for pipe covering that should be used instead to protect your plumbing.”
The best item to use that will cover and insulate outdoor fixtures is polyethylene foam insulation. It is a foam wrap that will completely cover the exposed pipe and protect it from rain, wind, water, and cold air. Different sizes are available and they can be purchased at your local hardware store.
Fix all outdoor leaks: Many times, homeowners have a leaky hose bib and do not notice it or get it fixed because it is hidden away in the backyard. Now is the time to inspect and repair all leaks, yes, even the small ones. If we get cold weather, the leaking water will freeze all the way up the hose bib and get back into the pipe. The tiniest leak can cause a great amount of damage.
Make sure you have the right amount of attic insulation to protect your plumbing: Attic insulation isn’t just for keeping our home cool during the summer; it also helps to keep warm air inside during the winter, which can be beneficial during a freeze. Pipes, along with other important systems in the home, are located in the attic. If your home is not equipped with the right amount of insulation, your pipes might freeze.
Protecting your Houston home during a freeze
Keep a water faucet running: The best way to keep your pipes from freezing is to turn on a water faucet and let the water slowly trickle. Doing so will keep the water moving inside the line which will make it nearly impossible to freeze. It is not so important to do this during the day when you are home and actively using water, but should be done at night when everyone in the home is sleeping.
Keep doors open: In many households, water heaters are located in a pantry or laundry room that doesn’t have a vent inside. These rooms can get extremely cold during the winter. By leaving the door to these type of rooms open, you are actively pushing heated air inside and keeping your water heater warm. This will decrease your chances of your water line freezing up.
What to do if your pipes freeze
Sometimes no matter what you do, your pipes will freeze. And if this happens don’t panic – just follow these steps:
Pay attention: Walk around your house and turn on every faucet to try and determine which pipes are frozen. Keep your faucets on and allow the frozen water to slowly trickle out of the faucet. This will help with the thawing process.
Wait it out: The best way to unfreeze your pipes and protect your plumbing is to give them time. It might take a few hours but eventually they will get back to normal. The biggest mistake homeowners make is to try to quicken the process.
“The last thing you want to do to a frozen pipe is to use a torch to try and warm it up,” said Bany. “When you use a torch on a pipe that is already frozen you can create stress problems and cause the pipe to crack. Once they freeze the right thing to do is to wait it out. You never want to be aggressive with your plumbing because you will create bigger problems.”
Call a plumber: After your pipes have thawed, it is a good idea to call a plumber to inspect your whole piping system and to make sure the freeze didn’t cause any leaks. If you call a plumber while your pipes are still frozen there is not much he can do because it is nearly impossible to detect leakage or other damage.
Knowing what to do before, during, and after a freeze is an important of part of home ownership. By taking the right steps and protecting your pipes from the elements you are extending the life of your whole plumbing system. If you are unsure if your home has the right amount of insulation or have any questions regarding your plumbing system, call the experts at John Moore Services. We are only a phone call away and are happy to help.