How to Prevent Frozen Water Pipes During the Cold Indiana Winter

Icicles hanging from a brown pipe

The plumbing network that supplies your Central Indiana home with water is crucial to your ongoing comfort and safety, especially when cold weather strikes. Few things are as comforting as being able to use your dishwasher, wash some clothes, or take a hot water bath at the end of the day, but when pipes freeze due to dropping temperatures, you could find yourself in a real pickle.

Since water expands when it freezes, frozen pipes can swell, crack, or even rupture during cold weather. Freezing can occur anywhere supply lines are exposed to the cold, including lines that are present on exterior walls, in basements or attics, and even outdoor pipes. Fortunately, homeowners can prevent the frozen pipe problem, flooding, and water damage by making a few changes.

The plumbing professionals at Mr. Plumber are committed to preventing frozen pipes this winter. Use this guide to learn where frozen pipes are common, what happens when a pipe freezes, and the steps you can take to remedy the situation.

When and Where Frozen Pipes Are More Common

Normally, the atoms within liquids move around very quickly, creating a very flexible, fluid matrix. However, the cold can change that quickly, especially with water. Whenever the temperature outdoors dips to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, the molecules within water slow down and can cling onto one another, forming a solid ice crystal. These crystals can spread quickly throughout the supply line or pipe, especially during prolonged periods of freezing weather.

Certain parts of your home are more prone to frozen pipes than others. The closer a pipe is to a heating source, the less likely it is to freeze. For instance, pipes situated within the center of your home, where warm air circulates day and night are less likely to freeze, while exterior pipes or supply lines that run through attics, basements, or crawlspaces are more likely to become frozen outdoor pipes.

How to Keep Outdoor Pipes from Freezing

The most likely place for a frozen pipe is often right outside your front door. Exterior pipes, especially ones that provide water supply to outdoor spigots, are very vulnerable to the cold if they aren’t appropriately prepared and protected. Use these steps to protect these lines.

Normal Hose Bibs

  1. Detach any garden hoses connected to your outdoor spigots. Clean and drain hoses before rolling them up and storing them in a safe, indoor location, such as a garage, basement, attic, or shed. Storing hoses indoors keeps any remaining water from freezing within the hose, swelling, and rupturing the line. As an added bonus, storing hoses away from the outdoor spigots keeps people from reconnecting them. If hoses are left in place, water can freeze within the hose, expand into the house, and crack apart plumbing components, causing water damage.
  2. After hoses are disconnected, find the shutoff valve that supplies your outdoor faucet. Shut it off to prevent water flow to the spigots. Many shutoff valves are located a few feet from the outdoor spigot, but on the inside of the house. They may be in your crawlspace, basement, or even on the opposite side of the wall if you have a home with a slab foundation. Some shutoff valves are situated behind access panels, much like electrical work would be. If you use a secondary water system, there may be a secondary water shutoff near the irrigation water meter outside.
  3. Older outdoor faucets may contain a drainage port on the water line near the shutoff. If you see one of these, place a bucket below the shutoff and open the port to remove water standing in the line.
  4. If you don’t spot a drainage port near your shutoff valve, simply open the outdoor spigot to allow any remaining water to drain from the line. Leave the spigot open all winter long to alleviate pipe pressure if freezing does occur.
  5. Prevent frozen pipes in the future by adding an insulative cover around your spigot.

Frost Free Hose Bibs

  1. Disconnect garden hoses, clean them, drain them, and store them indoors as outlined in step one above.
  2. Turn off the valve that supplies the hose bib with water. Next, open the outdoor valve to drain any remaining water from the line.
  3. Protect the outdoor spigot with a foam insulative cover.

Many newer homes are built with frost free hose bibs. These bibs are designed with freezing weather in mind and contain a shutoff valve that is situated far within the home, where the temperature is common. The entire supply line is sloped downwards from the shutoff valve to the spigot, allowing gravity to push water out of the pipe if a freeze does occur. The outdoor faucet is also situated at more of an angle to prevent water from sitting within the spigot. If you don’t have frost free spigots, ask a plumber to perform this upgrade before winter hits.

Prevent frozen pipes by insulating spigots and plumbing lines wherever you can. Styrofoam bib covers keep people from tampering with spigots during the winter and insulate the space around the bib to keep water from freezing. These covers are inexpensive and easy to install, creating an added barrier between your spigot and the cold.

You can also insulate any pipes situated in colder areas throughout your home with insulative pipe sleeves. These foam sleeves contain a slit down one side of the cylindrical body, making it easy to press around pipes. After the insulation is around the pipe, it can be taped shut to create a barrier and keep it in place.

During cold spells, it also helps to keep the HVAC vents throughout your home open to circulate heated air. Keep cabinet doors and pantry doors open throughout the night when cold weather hits to give heated air the chance to warm walls where pipes may be housed. Open the faucets to fixtures on exterior walls to create a trickle that keeps water from freezing, while also alleviating internal pressure in case a freeze does occur.

What Should You Expect If Pipes Freeze?

While pipes don’t always crack or burst when water freezes within them, the likelihood of the problem is very high. When water freezes within a pipe, it puts a great deal of pressure on the interior pipe walls, stressing the area enough to cause swelling, cracks, or even large holes in the side of the line. When the water is still frozen, the area may not leak. However, as soon as the water within the pipes thaws, major water leaks can occur. Water leaks are even more dangerous when they occur within hidden components of homes, such as inside of walls. Damage may go unnoticed for days, weeks, or months, sparking mold growth. Studies have shown that water damage caused by a burst pipe accounts for about 20% of all homeowner’s insurance claims and the average claim costs over $10,000.

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

Follow these steps if you suspect a pipe is frozen.

Frozen Outdoor Hose Bibs

  1. Open the outdoor faucets.
  2. Check to see where the water pipe that supplies the hose bib penetrates your exterior wall. Look at the base of the bib for signs of frost, which can indicate a frozen water pipe. Wrap the base of the bib with towels and rags.
  3. Thaw the pipe around the frozen area by pouring boiling water over the towels and rags to warm the pipe. Use a hair dryer to heat up the pipes and outdoor bib.
  4. If cold water starts to trickle from the spigot, the line is thawing. Continue to heat the area until you achieve full water pressure, turn off the shut off valve, then close the outside valve.
  5. Winterize your outdoor bib by using the steps outlined above.

Frozen Supply Lines to Hose Bibs

  1. Open the faucets outdoors.
  2. Locate the frozen supply lines, and thaw them gently using a hairdryer, heat tape, or heating pad. Warm the area by opening vents or by using an indoor space heater. Never apply a direct open flame to the pipes, since this can cause damage. Make sure not to use fuel-burning space heaters, such as propane heaters or charcoal stoves, since they generate dangerous carbon monoxide.
  3. When water stops trickling out of the faucet, close the shut off valve and winterize the pipe and bib using the steps above.

Frozen Lines on Exterior Walls

  1. Find areas where pipes have frozen by opening taps throughout your home. If you find a few taps that aren’t working, the supply line that provides them with water may be frozen. If all of your taps aren’t working, your main water line may have frozen.
  2. If you spot the supply line that has frozen, cut a hole in the drywall to access the pipe. Apply heat to the pipe with heat tape or a heat blanket, and leave the area exposed to give it access to warmed air.
  3. Leave faucets open to give melting water the chance to drip.
  4. When the water flows normally from the faucet, the supply line has thawed.
  5. Insulate the section of pipe to prevent future problems, and patch and repaint the wall.

Professional Help to Prevent Frozen Pipes

Remember, you are never on your own when it comes to thawing frozen plumbing lines or pipes. Here at Mr. Plumber, we specialize in diagnosing, repairing, and replacing damaged plumbing, and we are available any time of day or night, all year long. Give us a call today to schedule service, or reach out to us if you have questions about upgrading to frost-free hose bibs.

Subscribe for Savings and Tips in Your Email!