The Five W’s of Winter Pipe Preparedness

It’s time to prepare your pipes for another winter season (or at least our readers in colder climates), to prevent them from freezing—and potentially breaking. Like any good blogger, I’m going to walk you through the five W’s (with a few adaptations to the standard definition) of pipe preparedness so that when spring arrives, your “story” will have a happy ending.

WHO. You, that’s who. In most instances, preparing pipes for cold weather can be done by homeowners and office managers. Usually one trip to the local hardware store and a few hours on a weekend morning is all it takes.

WHY. To prevent property damage, water waste, stress, potentially unhealthy/unsafe situations at home and thousands of dollars in repair costs. According to Hartford Insurance, the average claim for damage from a frozen pipe is $18,000. While no one can live without water, living with too much of it, unexpectedly, can damage or destroy a home and disrupt the lives in it.

WHERE. In your home or office, or in the home of elderly parents or loved ones who don’t have the capabilities to winterize pipes on their own.

WHEN. Right now. Temperatures have already started to drop, and you never know when it could be in the 50s one day and the teens the next. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Prepare your pipes this month.

WHAT. Preventing costly leaks and broken pipes this winter requires a combination of knowing what to do and how to do it. Here are my top five tips:

  1. Assess. Do a home walkthrough, checking every place where water flows in your house. Take a notebook and make note of any pipes that are leaking, look old or show damage—which indicates they may start leaking soon. Also feel every pipe and its surrounding space for drafts or temperatures that are cooler than the rest of the house—this indicates an area that will need insulation.
  2. Repair and insulate. Step one will tell you where and to what extent you need to prepare pipes to prevent freezing and breaks. If you’re uncertain about how to fix existing or potential leaks, call a plumber—it will save you money and hassle in the long run. Any pipes in areas that could be exposed to freezing temperatures should be protected with insulated sleeves or wrapping.
  3. Drain outdoors. Shut off valves to all lines leading to outdoor faucets for hoses, sprinklers, etc. Then open the spigots to allow excess water to drip out.
  4. Do the doors. As temperatures drop, keep garage and exterior basement doors closed to prevent cold air from entering. Open cabinet doors in the kitchen and bathroom so that warmer house air can circulate around the pipes. Also, as temperatures plunge even further, refrain from lowering the thermostat in hopes of saving a dollar or two on energy bills.
  5. Drip it. When the forecast calls for temperatures below freezing, let faucets drip. Even a slow trickle can prevent ice from building up inside a pipe.

And your bonus W: WHAT IF. If, despite your efforts, pipes still freeze, you should immediately turn on the faucet (start with it in the “cold” position until warm water is available) and apply heat to the frozen section using towels soaked in warm water, an electric heating pad and/or a hairdryer. Do this until full pressure is restored. If you cannot locate the “freeze,” or if water isn’t restored, call a plumber.