How to Protect Against Frozen Pipes in Your Home

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Homeowners everywhere, from Alaska to Texas, need 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 2016 and 2020.1

Homeowners who file these claims lose an average of $11,650. About one in 62 insured homes make a claim related to water damage or freezing each year.1

Though these are troubling statistics, you can avoid frozen pipes and water damage claims by learning how pipes freeze, taking preventative action, and investing in some tools.



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 replacing, as they are subject to erosion and corrosion. Polybutylene pipes—commonly installed in homes 26 to 45 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 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—expand without bursting a pipe.
    • If you go 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.
  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 can welcome cold air inside, 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 55º Fahrenheit—during the day, night, and when you're on vacation.
    • You might see a higher utility bill, but it's cheaper than water damage costs.
  6. Open the cabinet doors when temperatures fall below 32º Fahrenheit.
    • Opening cabinets allows warm air to circulate around 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.

Products to help prevent frozen pipes

You don't have to face frozen pipes alone. The following products can help prevent frozen pipes and protect pipes against bursting.

Water leak and freeze detector

Water leak detector

The Resideo Wi-Fi Leak & Freeze Detector can sense your home's moisture, temperature, and humidity changes. It's an early warning system when weather changes and pipes are in danger of freezing.

Learn more in our review of the best water leak sensors.

Smart water valve

Smart water valve

The EcoNet Controls Bulldog Valve Robot water valve has a hefty price tag, but it integrates well with other smart home products and may qualify you for insurance policy discounts. To see the product at work, you'll need to purchase a smart hub that supports Z-Wave—we recommend the Aeotec Smart Home Hub

Outdoor faucet cover

Outdoor faucet cover

The FrostKing Padded Outdoor Sock Faucet Cover is inexpensive and easy to use. Slip the faucet sock over any external spigot to help prevent freezes.

Pipe heating cable

Pipe heating cable

The M-D Building Products Pipe Heating Cable with Thermostat simply attaches to vulnerable pipes. Once you plug it in, it helps prevent freezing down to -50º Fahrenheit.

Insulated pipe tape

Insulated tape

Insulating a pipe is pretty straightforward—just wrap insulated tape like Vivosun Insulated Spiral Pipe Wrap around hot and cold pipes to give them extra protection in frigid temps. The material is fiberglass-free so you can install it by hand.

What to do if pipes freeze

If the pipes freeze, it's tempting to head to the nearest hotel for some running water, but don't be hasty. Follow these steps to keep a freeze from becoming a disaster:

  1. Shut off the main water valve.
  2. Call a plumber if the frozen pipe is in an area you can't reach—like underground or in an interior wall.
  3. Use warm air to help thaw the pipes if you can access the frozen pipe. You can use a hair dryer, heat tape, or a quality space heater, but don't leave it unattended—space heaters can catch fire.
  4. Slowly turn the water back on, watching for leaks. You may need someone to assist you with this step.
  5. Repeat steps three and four if the water doesn't resume flowing immediately.

If a pipe bursts before you can thaw it, immediately shut off your water to prevent a flood. Mop up any mess you can reach and contact a plumber. Once the plumber assesses the damage, get started on an insurance claim.

Preventing frozen pipes FAQ

How do water pipes freeze?

Though water freezes at 32º Fahrenheit, pipes act as a barrier—the water inside them generally doesn't freeze until it is below 20º F. Pipes with little or no insulation could freeze when the outside temperature dips under 20º F.

Water expands as it freezes, which is troublesome for pipes. As the water freezes along the pipe's length, pressure increases between the ice and a closed endpoint, such as a faucet or washing machine hose. The pressure grows too large for the limited space to handle, which results in a pipe bursting.

Which pipes are most likely to freeze?

Homes in the Southern and Western United States tend to be more prone to freezing and water damage than homes in the North. Northern homes regularly deal with Arctic blasts, so builders design them with better insulation.

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:

  • Uninsulated pipes
  • Pipes on the exterior of the home
  • Pipes located in attics, garages, basements, crawl spaces, or other uninsulated 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 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.

We recommend using insulated tape. It's easy to use and takes no tools.

Yep. Turn all of your faucets, including your shower and tubs. There's no need to turn them on full-blast, though. They just need a steady drip.

Not always, but it is a good possibility. A little preparation can save you expensive repair bills.

Related articles on SafeWise


Sources

  1. Insurance Information Institute, "Facts + Statistics: Homeowners and Renters Insurance." Accessed January 25, 2023.

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Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past eight. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime reports and spotting trends. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, NPR, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips.

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