Frozen Pipes

Idaho winters don’t always arrive as predicted. The tease of extended fall weather can end quickly and dramatically with surprise appearances of bitter cold fronts and underestimated snow storms. It’s easier than we think to be caught off-guard.

A substantial concern for Idaho property owners during the winter is frozen waterlines. As most of us know, when a pipe freezes and bursts, the damage can be catastrophic to your property. If you haven’t considered your readiness to endure the cold this year, now is the time. In addition to the tips we’ve provided below, contact your Farm Bureau agent for more information on protecting your plumbing from freezing.

Basic Prevention

Sprinkler systems. Be sure to have your lawn irrigation system shut off and blown out with compressed air. Also be sure to shut off the timer and remove the batteries.

Check for gaps. Crawl spaces, basement windows, garages/shops/barns, etc can have small areas where outside air flows in near pipes. Use caulk or expanding foam where you can to seal small gaps. During extreme cold, you may need to close foundation vents if your home has them. For older homes with no storm windows, consider thermal plastic sealing kits. Since they are fairly “unsightly,” you may want to limit them to rear windows.

Exterior faucets. Disconnect and drain all garden hoses. If possible, shut off the faucet’s supply from inside the home and leave the faucet open for the winter. If you cannot control the faucet supply from an interior valve, install an insulated faucet cover – available at any hardware/home improvement store.

Insulate pipes. Wherever your pipes are accessible, adding snap-on pipe insulation can help retain those few degrees needed during a bitter cold Idaho night. Be sure the insulation is snug, with no gaps between it and the pipe. If you have exposed pipes anywhere in your home, spending a few bucks and an afternoon installing them can save you a disaster later on.

Keep your home toasty. If you’re going away, leave your heat on your normal settings. That wives-tale method of turning your heat down while you’re out of town can result in a huge disaster if the temperature takes an unexpected drop. It’s just not worth those few dollars you might save on your heating bill.

For the techies. There are some very ingenious and intuitive home automation products that monitor your home’s sprinklers, water pressure, temperature and more using any device with internet connection. If you are techie minded individual, check out some of the home “hub” systems that can let you be in control when you’re not home.

On the coldest night…

Sometimes basic prevention just isn’t enough. When your favorite news meteorologist starts talking about “temps in the sub-zeros”, maybe you should take things a step further…

Let it drip. In your kitchen and at least one bathroom, open a faucet enough for a slow drip. It keeps water moving through the pipes. It also helps relieve built-up water pressure, in case they should still freeze. If you have water pipes running in outside walls, do this with the closest faucet to the those pipes.

Open cabinets. If there is a cabinet under your kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, or shop sink; open it. If you store dangerous chemicals under the sink (as many still do), be sure to get them out of children’s reach.

“If a pipe freezes, what do I do?”

If no water comes out of a faucet (or it comes out very slowly) during or after an unusually cold spell, a frozen pipe is the probable suspect. Check other faucets in your home to see if the situation is localized or if a main line is damaged. If it’s widespread, turn off the main water to the house and call a plumber.

If only one pipe seems frozen, turn on the appropriate faucet to help get the water moving. Be aware of where the pipe runs through walls or in ceilings and be sure to watch and listen for water leaks. If the water has not returned to full volume after a short time, the pipe may have burst somewhere inaccessible. You will need to call a plumber.

If you can locate the point where a pipe is frozen, carefully consider the hair-dryer method. Set a hair dryer to low and slowly heat the pipe starting from the faucet. Continue warming the pipe until full water pressure returns to the open faucet. If you can not reach a frozen pipe to warm it, call a plumber and shut off the water supply to the pipe. Keep the faucet open.

If water starts to gush out of the pipe while you are warming it, unplug the hair dryer and close the nearest water shut-off valve (or even the main) immediately. Keep the faucet open. Call a plumber.

Hopefully, your basic knowledge and preparation will prevent a pipe bursting disaster this winter, they can (and do) happen. Contact your Farm Bureau agent to find out if your policy covers the damage and displacement that accompanies floods from frozen water lines.