Frozen pipes are a tremendous pain, and something every homeowner should school themselves on to avoid unpleasant outcomes—like pipes that burst, ruining your furniture or belongings.
In this piece, we’ll take a look at some common tips and tactics to avoid having your pipes freeze. And we’ll also summarize what you need to know when it comes to frozen pipes and your homeowners insurance policy.
At the risk of oversimplification, your home’s plumbing is made up of two main systems: one that brings clean water in, and another that takes the dirty water away. In the middle of these systems are fixtures and appliances like toilets, sinks, showers, washing machines, and dishwashers.
Think of your home’s network of pipes as a sort of central nervous system for the plumbing. Having everything flowing the right way is pretty important.
When do pipes freeze, and why is it a big deal?
Both copper and plastic pipes can freeze under extremely cold temperatures. Even when they’re not in use, your pipes will likely have some water left in them—so once that water freezes, nothing can pass through.
Some tell-tell signs, besides the obvious? Your faucet might start to smell a bit funky, or you might spot frost on the exterior part of the pipe.
It’s not just that frozen pipes might make certain appliances temporarily unusable. When pipes freeze, they can later crack and burst, causing water damage that requires serious repairs.
How to stop your pipes from freezing
Okay, so we’re clear that frozen pipes are the pits. But you don’t have to cross your fingers and hope for the best—there are concrete steps you can take in advance to avoid a headache down the road.
Insulate your pipes
Pipes located in exterior-facing walls or in unheated spaces like your attic are more susceptible to extreme temperatures, and should be insulated. You can buy pipe insulation from a hardware store if you’re feeling handy, or hire a plumber to tackle the job.
Seal leaks that allow air in
Search closely for any areas of your home that are letting drafts of cold outside air in. Focus on common problem areas like crawl spaces or dryer vents. Seal leaks with caulk or spray foam insulation (such as Great Stuff) to keep the freezing air where it belongs.
Watch the thermostat
Keep your thermostat on a similar setting both day and night so that the temperature doesn’t fall too low. You might be tempted to conserve energy and turn the thermostat off if you’re out for the day—or away on vacation—but that could spell trouble. Try to keep it set above 50 degrees to prevent frozen pipes.
Turn your taps on regularly
During exceedingly cold weather, leave a trickle of warm, running water from any faucets located on outside walls (these are sometimes called spigots or house bibs). This relieves pressure in the system. When a pipe freezes, it’s actually the pressure that’s created between the blockage and the faucet that causes the pipe to burst.
What to do if your pipes freeze (or burst)
If you turn your tap on and no water comes out: Call a licensed plumber.
That said, if you’re tempted to address the issue yourself, keep the following in mind:
- Never, ever try to heat pipes using an open flame (like a blowtorch)
- You could potentially try to warm a frozen pipe with a hairdryer, but be careful. And to avoid the risk of electric shock, make sure you’re not standing in any water!
- If you’re pretty sure that a pipe has burst, shut off the main water supply to your home—but make sure to leave all faucets on.
What should I know about my homeowners insurance policy?
Your homeowners insurance covers Loss of Use in certain scenarios, which means that it would help pay for temporary living expenses if you’re forced out of your home.
However, simply having frozen pipes—without further damage—does not make you eligible for this coverage. There has to be direct damage to your physical property for your Loss of Use coverage to kick in.
So let’s say that frozen pipe bursts, and ends up flooding your living room and damaging your carpet and furniture. You need to relocate to a hotel for two days, and a number of belongings are destroyed. In this scenario, your homeowners insurance would help cover both the damage to your property (due to a specific “peril” mentioned in your policy, “accidental discharge from a frozen burst pipe”) as well as your temporary living expenses.
In certain circumstances, though, damage from a burst pipe would not be covered—for instance, if you go out of town during a cold snap and don’t take proper measures to protect your home.
If you’re going to be away from home for a while, follow two simple rules:
- Leave at least some heat on.
- Shut off the water supply and drain all systems and appliances of water.
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