Preventing pipes from freezing in the first place is the ideal and here are some tips from Consumer Reports that can help.
Start by identifying pipes that are most at risk. These could be kitchen pipes that run through a cabinet or heating pipes running through the garage or unheated basement. Any pipe that is shielded from the warmth of the house in some way is at risk.
If possible, insulate the pipes before cold weather comes. You can purchase special insulation designed to fit right over the pipes that will help to protect them from drafts, which are notorious for freezing pipes, and to conserve any warmth from the running water.
On very cold days, leave cabinet doors open in your kitchen to allow heat to reach hidden pipes. Also be sure to close and seal any exterior doors and windows that could blow cold air on the pipes.
How can you tell if pipes are frozen?
The easiest way to tell that you have a frozen pipe is that the water isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. Either it’s not coming out of the faucet or it’s not heating the house, etc. Sometimes you can see frost on the pipe and if you touch it, you can’t feel the water flowing. This article has other helpful suggestions.
If you suspect a frozen pipe
Frozen pipes themselves can be just a temporary inconvenience if you act quickly. If the cold weather continues and you are away or don’t realize the pipes are frozen, the ice can expand to the point of actually damaging the pipes. If you’ve ever seen a copper pipe that was damaged by freezing, it looks like someone sliced through the side as the ice forced its way through the copper.
Even frozen and damaged pipes, as costly as that can be to repair, are nothing compared to what happens when the ice melts. The way some people find out they have frozen pipes is when the weather gets a bit warmer. Now all of that water that used to be in your pipes is dripping from your ceiling or spraying your living room floor. If you’re not home when the thaw occurs, the water will just keep running. You’ll end up with a huge water bill and a big mess.
The faster you act, the less damage you’ll suffer. This great – and quick – video from Rizzo Insurance walks you through the steps you can take to minimize the impact, and cost, of a burst pipe.
If you’re heading out of town
Keep your thermostat set at a minimum of 55° F, especially if you’ll be away for a few days. Water sitting in the pipes has a much better chance of freezing then if you’re running the water on a regular basis. If you expect frigid temperatures while you’re away, consider leaving a few faucets dripping at a slow rate. This can help keep pipes clear. You may also ask a friend to stop by regularly during the cold snap to run the water and check for sounds of water running in the walls. More info
For a longer holiday, consider draining the pipes and shutting off the main water supply. That way you can enjoy your time away and not worry about the weather back home. More info
Hope this helps and keep a sunny outlook, spring will be here before you know it! You can also try moving to a warmer climate. If you choose that route, I’m here to help you sell;-)