How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

When winter rolls in, as it certainly has this week, Indianapolis area residents need to take precautions to prevent frozen pipes and the damage they cause. Preventive action helps you avoid this issue, as well as some to-do list items when the temperatures drop.

Mr. Plumber’s licensed Indianapolis plumbers also share the warning signs of frozen pipes and what to do when you notice them. If you suspect frozen pipes in your home, call Mr. Plumber for plumbing repair and inspection to ensure your pipes have not been damaged by freezing.

Why Are Frozen Pipes a Problem?

The problem with frozen pipes is the pressure freezing water places on the pipe itself. When water inside the pipe freezes, it expands, exerting pressure against the pipe walls. Water also backs up behind the frozen water because it is no longer able to flow out, which also builds pressure in the pipe.

This pressure has the potential to cause breaks in the pipe material or at connections, which leads to leaks. In some cases, frozen pipes cause even more severe damage – a pipe burst. Once the pipe thaws, if damage is done, you could be facing a minor or major leak in your home.

Prevent Frozen Pipes with Maintenance & Improvements

To prevent frozen pipes, some simple maintenance helps you clear vulnerable plumbing lines. There are other home improvement projects which also benefit your plumbing, which help reduce their exposure to cold temperatures in the winter.

  • Hose bib maintenance
  • Insulation improvements
  • Air sealing

Hose Bib Maintenance

Hose bib is the plumbing term for the outside spigots where garden hoses attach. These plumbing components are especially vulnerable to cold temperatures and are prone to freezing. Prevent frozen pipes when you properly maintain your hose bibs before winter.

Never leave garden hoses connected to the hose bib in winter. Disconnect them, drain them, and store them indoors. Frozen water affects a hose in the same manner as it does plumbing lines, expanding and damaging the hose. Plus, a connected garden hose may prevent water from flowing out of the hose bib, which causes freezing.

Once your garden hose is disconnected, it’s time to drain the hose bib and prepare it for winter. If your home has more than one hose bib installed, you need to follow these steps for each one.

  1. Turn off the hose bib shutoff valve. This is located within your home, basement, or crawlspace, likely directly behind where the hose bib runs outdoors. When you turn off the shutoff valve, this cuts water flow through the supply line and out to the hose bib.
  2. Turn on the hose bib. This allows any leftover water within the hose bib to drain out, removing the potential for it to freeze within.
  3. Open the bleed valve. It’s located below the shutoff valve. Place a bowl or bucket below to catch any water that remains in the lines.

This should help prevent frozen pipes and keep your hose bibs safe during the winter season, but there is always the potential for a broken valve and freezing, in rare circumstances. Frost-free hose bibs eliminate this risk and are installed by plumbers to help homeowners prevent frozen pipes.

A frost-free hose bib has a few built-in measures that prevent frozen pipes. Its supply line is longer so the shutoff valve sits farther into the home, where temperatures are warmer. It also runs at a downward angle, which allows water to flow out to avoid freezing inside.

Insulation Improvements

The areas where plumbing lines run through your home typically do not receive heat, and insulation is often lacking. Thus, pipes are surrounded by colder temperatures which puts them at risk to freeze. Leaks are also more likely to go unnoticed in these areas because they are not regularly accessed by the homeowner.

Increase insulation levels in the spaces where vulnerable plumbing lines run. Attics, basements, crawlspaces, garages, and below flooring all benefit from added insulation, which helps these areas retain heat and keep pipes warmer. More insulation also benefits your comfort and your home’s energy efficiency, as more heat is retained.

Pipes themselves may also be directly insulated. Fiberglass or foam tube insulation wraps snugly around plumbing lines to prevent frozen pipes. Pipe insulation helps the pipe retain warmth as well as prevents surrounding cold air from impacting the pipe.

Air Sealing

Openings in a home’s foundation or along exterior walls contribute to the cold temperatures felt by plumbing lines. These air leaks need to be sealed to help your home retain heat and prevent cold outdoor air from moving into the home. Air sealing protects plumbing to prevent frozen pipes and improve household energy efficiency.

Walk around your home’s exterior and look for spaces and openings that allow outdoor air to move into your home. Look at your foundation, exterior walls, and any pipe or wire penetrations that lead outside. Depending on the building materials around the opening, caulk or spray foam insulation can be used to seal these openings. If your home is on a crawlspace, also close crawlspace vents to keep cold air out and help keep warmth within to prevent frozen pipes.

What to Do When Temperatures Drop

During the winter months, be conscious of the weather forecast so you know when your plumbing needs extra attention to prevent frozen pipes. Anytime temperatures are expected to drop below freezing, take these precautions to protect your plumbing:

  • Set the thermostat in your home above 50 degrees. Don’t be tempted to turn heat off in the winter when you’re away or in a vacant home, as frozen pipes along with humidity issues are possible. When your thermostat is set above 50 degrees, your heating system helps keep the home warm enough to prevent frozen pipes.
  • Help pipes stay warm. Open doors to cabinets below sinks, as well as doors to utility and laundry rooms. This allows the home’s warm air to circulate into these areas and protect against pipe freezes. This should be done for all pipes, but is especially critical for plumbing lines that run along exterior walls, as they are more likely to freeze.
  • Keep faucets open to allow a small stream of water. Prevent frozen pipes when you maintain water movement through the lines.
  • Protect vulnerable garage plumbing by keeping the overhead door shut. Only use it as needed and never leave it open for extended periods of time, as heat escapes your garage and puts your plumbing pipes at risk.

Symptoms of Frozen Pipes

Sometimes, pipes still freeze despite our best efforts to prevent this problem. It’s important to know the symptoms a frozen pipe displays so you are able to get to work fast to help your home avoid damage. 

These are common signs of frozen pipes:

  • Uneven water supply comes from a faucet
  • Very little water comes from a faucet
  • No water from a faucet
  • Smells from drains and faucets
  • You see frost on plumbing lines
  • Visible pipe leaks or dampness on walls
  • Plumbing makes whistling noises

What to Do If Pipes Freeze

If you suspect frozen pipes at home, you need to pinpoint the location of the freeze first. If one faucet is affected, the freeze is likely along that fixture’s supply line. If more than one faucet in your home shows symptoms, check the main supply lines that run through your home.

Do not begin to thaw frozen pipes right away – you need to check for damage first. If you thaw a frozen pipe that has burst or sprung a leak, you’ll have water on your hands to deal with afterwards. As long as pipes appear unbroken, proceed to thaw them.

  1. Turn on the tap to allow frozen water to exit and permit waterflow to help thaw ice.
  2. Apply heat to the frozen pipe. Use a hair dryer or space heater, or put an electric heating pad or towels soaked in hot water directly onto the frozen pipe. Never use high-heat devices or those with open flames to avoid damaging the plumbing lines further.
  3. Keep heating the pipe until normal water pressure and flow are restored.
  4. Inspect the plumbing lines once thawed to verify no leaks have popped up.

If you cannot find the frozen pipe, it’s time to call our plumbers for help. Our trained professionals quickly identify frozen plumbing lines, inspect for damage, thaw your pipes, and make repairs to undo the damage caused by frozen pipes.

Mr. Plumber Helps Prevent Frozen Pipes

Talk to our licensed plumbers today about the home improvements that work to prevent frozen pipes in your Indianapolis home. If you have frozen pipes, our plumbers provide quick repairs to eliminate damage and protect your plumbing. Contact us today to schedule service.