Winter can be charming, it reminds us of Christmas lights, beautiful snow angels, and of course, snowball fights with our beloved ones.
However, winter has a dark side.
As the temperature goes down, the risk of frozen pipes goes up. And if your pipe freeze, it can burst, which can cost you thousands of dollars in property damage and flood cleanup.
Luckily, we are here to prevent that from happening.
In this article, we will provide you with the best tips and tricks to prevent pipes from freezing, so you can enjoy your winter months without worrying about iced pipes or costly repairs.
Further, we will go through some of the most frequently asked questions regarding frozen pipes such as why do pipes freeze, what pipes are most likely to freeze, what is the minimum temperature to keep pipes from freezing, and many more.
Related reading you may also like:
- What Causes A Pipe To Burst?
- What Does Water Damage Look Like?
- How to Tell If You Have Too Much Moisture in Your House
So without further ado, let’s jump right into it.
Why do pipes freeze?
Well, the short answer is because it’s too cold outside.
During the winter months, when the temperature outside is very low for an extended period of time, the cold air leaking through your poorly insulated walls can cause a sudden drop in the temperature, freezing the water in your pipes.
Pipe freezing isn’t only limited to the pipes in your crawl spaces. In fact, frost can penetrate the ground deep enough to freeze the water in your pipes, and in some cases, it can even freeze the water service lines feeding your home.
What pipes are most likely to freeze?
Pipes that are prone to freezing are the ones exposed to drafts or colder temperatures like:
- Attics pipes
- Crawl spaces pipes
- Basement pipes
- Garage pipes
- Rooms adjoining the garage
- Pipes that have poor heat circulation such as the ones in your kitchen and bathroom cabinets
- Pipes running through outside walls
- Pipes leading to your outside hose bibs
- Pipes that feed your swimming pool
How to prevent pipes from freezing?
1. Disconnect and drain all your outdoor faucets
As you know, outdoor faucets are not properly insulated. And this means that the cold from the outside will be in direct contact with the faucets, leeching the heat from them and eventually cause them to freeze.
So to prevent your outdoor pipes from freezing, you need to shut off the main valve inside your house that feeds your outdoor spigots.
In general, you will find this valve around 2ft away from where your faucet is, so just close it before it gets too cold outside.
After closing the main valve that serves your outdoor faucet, make sure to drain all the remaining water and unhook the garden hose or any attachments, as they can trap water inside them, leech the heat from the pipes, and cause them to freeze. Also, in colder temperatures, the hoses can contract, causing more pipe damage.
Pro tip: If your outdoor spigots often freeze, you can install a frostproof faucet. What’s great about these faucets are made with a long shaft, which traps the water inside the hoses instead of outside, preventing the spigots from freezing.
Further, you can also opt for cheap outdoor faucet insulators, these insulators are made of styrofoam that can protect your spigots from weather elements. They are also extremely cheap and easy to install.
2. Keep the water flowing
The second tip to prevent pipe freezing in crawl spaces is to keep the water taps dripping.
This sounds like a DUH! Tip, but you will be shocked with how many people don’t actually know this simple trick.
The science behind this trick is that water is much harder to freeze when it’s moving, as movement slightly heats up the water and breaks small ice crystals, preventing them from building up and freezing your pipe.
For this reason, letting a cold tap running at a steady stream is a very effective technique when the temperature decides to drop below normal.
Just make sure to remove anything around or near the drain, as it can cause flood damage.
Note: DO NOT leave your tap running and leave the home.
3. Do an energy audit
The best way to prevent your home pipes from freezing is to do a thorough energy audit and locate all cracks that leak your heat.
In this section, we will go through how to do a basic energy audit by yourself to protect your pipes from freezing.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, locating air leaks and fixing them won’t only prevent sudden temperature drop that can freeze your pipes, but also save you around 10% to 20% of energy bills each year.
Here are a few spots to check for cracks:
- Electrical and gas service entrances
- Baseboards and the edge of the flooring
- Joints of the walls and ceilings
- Where sidings and chimneys meet
- Weather strippings around doors and windows
- Lighting and plumbing fixtures
- Electrical outlets
- Attic hatches
- Air conditioners
- Vent and fans
Make a list of all the cracks you found, and once you are done, all you need to do is to plug and carefully caulk all of them to prevent them from leaking heat.
4. Insulate your pipes
During the cold winter months, your heating system won’t be able to efficiently heat every inch of your home, and there would still be some areas that don’t get enough heat such as garages, attics, and crawl spaces.
For this reason, it’s important to insulate the pipes in hard to heat areas to prevent them from freezing.
Insulating materials are very cheap and can be found in any hardware store nearby.
It’s important to mention that although insulation is a very common solution for pipe freezing, it’s not always an optimal one.
This is due to the fact that insulation doesn’t only keep cold away, but also keeps heat away, which can also harm your pipes.
5. Raise your thermostat
One of the biggest myths when it comes to the thermostat is that raising the temperature will cost you way more money. However, it’s really not that big of a deal.
Thermostats have 2 modes: Heating and maintaining.
For instance, if your home temperature is 40 degrees and you set the thermostat to 70 degrees, then the thermostat will consume a lot of energy to heat the air in your house till it reaches 70 degrees.
Then, it goes into the maintaining mode where it just preserves the temperature level and this mode consumes very little energy.
So, running your thermostat higher won’t cost you much more, as many may believe. In fact, they can save you both the money and hassle of keeping your pipes from freezing.
Now after busting the myth, it’s recommended to keep the temperature between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent them from freezing
6. Improve air circulation around pipes
Raising your thermostat won’t prevent your pipes from freezing if they don’t get enough warm air.
For this reason, you need to improve the air circulation around your plumping by opening kitchen and bathroom cabinets, cupboards, and laundry cabinet doors.
Further, you also need to allow the warm air from your heating system to flow through your garage and crawl spaces to warm the pipes in them and keeping them from freezing.
Improving the air circulation can also help to thaw the pipes when they are frozen, so keep that in mind when it gets too cold.
7. Use an antifreeze
Your water pipes aren’t the only thing prone to freezing in your home.
Things like shower drains and toilet sinks have a small amount of water inside them to prevent sewage odors from coming inside the house.
And because this small amount of water is often very hard to heat, it’s recommended to use a small amount of RV antifreeze to prevent them from freezing and damaging your plumbing.
BONUS: Install heat cables
Heat tapes or heat cables are exactly what their name suggests. These tapes have a thermostat on them that turns on whenever the temperature reached 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent them from freezing.
Heat tapes can be installed virtually anywhere in your house, all you need is a long enough extension to reach a nearby electrical plug and an electrical tape to secure the heat cables.
It’s also recommended to insulate the pipes to trap the heat inside and not wasted in the air.
The reason why we don’t recommend using heat cables is that they can be dangerous, especially when not installed properly.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, heat tapes are responsible for about 3,300 residential fires each year with over 150 injuries and 20 deaths. So if you decided to opt for heat cables, make sure to use the help of a licensed installer.
How to keep pipes from freezing in a vacant house?
Here are some tips on how to stop your pipes from freezing when you are away from the home:
- Close the main water valves and drain the water from the pipes
- Keep the heat on
- Open all the doors in your home to improve the circulation and allow heated air to warm your pipes
- Insulate your home to keep the heat in
- Install an automatic shut off valve that closes the water to your home when a leak is detected
- Put a small amount of RV antifreeze in your swimming pool, bathtub drain, and toilet sink
What to do if your pipes froze?
If your pipe is already frozen, then you can simply follow these steps to thaw it:
- Search for frozen spots in areas where pipes are exposed to air drafts or cold temperatures like attics, rooms adjoining the garage, and the pipes running through outside walls
- Open all the water taps connected to the frozen pipe(s). This will help you know if the water is flowing again and the flowing water will also help dissolve the block of ice inside the pipe making it that much quicker to thaw
- Use a hairdryer to warm the pipes. Just make sure you don’t come in contact with water or moisture, as it can cause an electric shot
- Start slowly applying a little bit of heat at a time to the section closest to the faucet. This will prevent water from building up pressure and burst your pipes
But what if the frozen pipe is inside the wall?
In this case, you can deal with the frozen pipe by warming up the area around the pipes with a space heater or by turning the heat up.
Note: Make sure the space heater won’t come in contact with moisture.
How cold does it have to be in your house for the pipes to freeze?
Generally speaking, your pipes will start freezing when the outside temperature drops under 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, this really varies depending on many factors such as your home’s insulation, wall cracks, airflow, inside temperature, and many more.
How do you keep your pipes from freezing without heat?
If the furnace is out, you can keep your pipes from freezing by slightly opening the faucet connected to the exposed pipes.
This is because keeping even a small trickle of water flow will prevent the cold water from icing and clogging your pipes, which causes them to freeze.
You should also insulate your water pipes to protect them from frost.
How much water should drip to keep pipes from freezing?
In general, a drip of 1 gallon per hour is enough to keep your pipe from freezing.
However, it really doesn’t matter if you should drip how much water should you drip, as our goal is to keep the water flowing.
So, just open the cold tap and keep the water flowing.
Note: Only open the faucets that are connected to vulnerable pipes that are prone to freezing, as dripping water from all faucets will be just a waste of water.
How long does it take for pipes to freeze and burst?
On average, it only takes 4-5 hours for pipes to freeze and burst if the temperature is 20 Fahrenheit and below.
How deep to bury water pipes to prevent freezing?
ِAs a rule of thumb, you should bury your water pipes below the maximum frost line.
For more information, you can use this tool to check your frost line by zip code.
How do you insulate buried water lines?
Insulating your underground water pipes won’t only reduce the risk of them freezing but also protect them from damage and boost their lifespan.
Here is a 4 step guide on how to insulate buried water lines:
- Use Armaflex Tuffcoat to wrap your outdoor pipes to prevent them from freezing
- Waterproof your pipes by wrapping plastic all around the insulation
- If your water pipes are less than 36” deep, you should place a ¼” steel plating to protect the pipes from damage
- Backfill and compact the whole with sand instead of soil, as sand has great insulation properties and will prevent your pipes from freezing
What is the minimum temperature to keep pipes from freezing?
To prevent your pipes from freezing in cold weather, you need to set your thermostat to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit. However, for better results, it’s recommended to keep the temperature between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Can pipes freeze and not burst?
Although frozen pipes are very prone to bursting, they don’t always do.
In general, your frozen pipes burst for 2 reasons:
First, because when this cold water runs through your relatively warm pipes, it will decrease the temperature of your pipes, causing them to contract. This contraction often happens in the weaker parts causing them to break.
The second reason is that when after your pipes begin to thaw, the water flow can be very powerful, and in many cases, the pipe won’t be able to withstand this pressure, so they burst.