States across the country are experiencing record low temperatures this winter already, prompting homeowners to consider the risks of frozen pipes in their homes. Water damage and freezing claims were the second-most frequent type of claims filed in the United States between 2010 and 2014, which means about one in fifty-five insured homes files a claim every year.
Homeowners who file these claims lose an average of around $8,000, and unfortunately the frequency of these claims is rising: they accounted for 21.2% of claims in 2010 and 33.7% of claims in 2014. Though these are worrisome statistics, you can avoid frozen pipes and water damage claims by learning how pipes freeze, taking preventative action, and investing in some tools.
How Pipes Freeze
Though water freezes at thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit, pipes act as a barrier so water inside them generally doesn’t freeze until it is below twenty degrees. Pipes with little or no insulation could freeze when the outside temperature dips under twenty degrees.
Water expands as it freezes, which is troublesome for pipes. As the water freezes along the length of the pipe, pressure increases between the ice and a closed endpoint, such as a faucet or washing machine hose. The pressure can grow too large for the limited space to handle, which results in a pipe bursting.
Pipes that Are Most Susceptible to Freezing
Homes in the southern and western regions of the United States tend to be more prone to freezing and water damage than homes in the northern region, which are often built to withstand arctic blasts. Because southern homes sometimes feature less insulation—and the pipes leading to the home aren’t always housed as far below ground—they are at greater risk for water damage.
No matter where you live, these four types of pipes tend to be the most vulnerable to freezing.
Pipes on the exterior of the home
Pipes located in attics, garages, basements, crawl spaces, or other un-insulated areas
Copper or galvanized steel pipes
There are other areas in homes that are susceptible to freezing, as well. The connectors and hoses on washing machines, dishwashers, and water heaters are also vulnerable to freezing as they can become brittle and break. Sinks and showers also pose potential hazards. Outside, spigots, sprinkler systems, and swimming pool lines might not be as well insulated as indoor plumbing and could be the first points to collapse during a hard freeze.
How to Prepare Your Pipes for Colder Weather
It’s important to take precautions whenever the outside temperature is near freezing—temperatures can change overnight, and wind chills leave pipes vulnerable to freezing and bursting. To prevent frozen pipes in the home, you first need to know what kind of pipes you have.
If your home uses copper or galvanized steel pipes, make sure they don’t need to be replaced as they are subject to erosion and corrosion. Polybutylene pipes—commonly installed in homes fifteen to forty-five years ago—are especially prone to failure and should be replaced immediately as they no longer meet US building codes.
However, you won’t need to replace pipes most of the time, particularly if you take the following measures every fall.
1. Drain, remove, and store outdoor hoses to keep them from becoming fragile or posing tripping hazards after a snowfall or freeze. Also drain water from outdoor lines, such as those connected to swimming pools and sprinklers.
2. Open outdoor hose spigots but close the inside valves that supply them with water. This process causes the water to drain and, in the event of a freeze, to expand without bursting a pipe. If you are going on an extended vacation, turn off the water to the home and open all the faucets to drain any water remaining in the pipes.
3. Insulate water supply lines and pipes in the garage, basement, attic, and other unheated areas with foam, heating cables, or pipe sleeves. Do the same for pipes under kitchen and bathroom sinks.
Insulation is easy to install around pipes.
4. Make sure your home is enclosed and insulated. Find and seal any cracks, drafts, and holes in the home’s exterior. Even small openings welcome in cold air, which impacts pipes and heating bills. Enclose crawlspaces and insulate the attic. The added layer of insulation keeps warm air in and cold weather out. Close the garage door to keep heat inside, especially if it closets water supply lines, the water heater, or a washing machine.
5. Keep the thermostat at a consistent setting—no lower than fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit—during the day and night, and when you’re on vacation. You might see a higher utility bill, but it will be cheaper than water damage costs.
6. When temperatures fall below thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit, open cabinet doors to let warm air circulate around the kitchen and bathroom plumbing.
7. Let hot and cold water trickle through your pipes during frigid nights to help prevent them from freezing.
8. Find a local plumber. In the worst-case scenario, you should have the number of a trusted plumbing professional on hand.
This cover easily installs over your outdoor water spouts, giving them extra protection against the cold.
Source: The SafeWise Report