Preventative Plumbing for the Winter

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ November 3, 2009

It's neither fun, nor cheap to repair and replace burst pipes in the winter. If you live where outside temperatures drop below freezing, you can spare yourself money and heartache by wrapping your exposed pipes with insulation. The process is straight-forward, and you should be able to complete it yourself.

There is a wide range of insulating tape and wraps in materials that should meet your requirements. They come packaged as:

  • Self-adhering tape
  • Sleeves of foam
  • Sponge-felt wraps
  • Fiberglass jackets
  • Cork wrapping
  • Wool felt
You should wrap insulation wherever pipes run in unheated indoor rooms and crawlspaces, outside walls, and at junctures where the water supply enters the house.

Winterize Your Plumbing

For outside pipes in cold climes, you may want to try caulking pipes at wall openings and closing all vents along the foundation. Turn off unnecessary outdoor faucets, disconnect the hoses and store them in your garage. During a deep freeze, open your kitchen cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate at the drain and basin. Many homeowners leave a small trickle of water running in the bath or kitchen during frigid days and nights to keep the pipes open.

In consistently freezing conditions, you might invest in heat wrap or heat tape. These products are not recommended for plastic pipes. They're plugged into an electrical outlet and work like a heating blanket to keep your pipes toasty. They can be an expensive option.

Repairing Leaks or Breaks

If you end up with a burst pipe, act fast to avoid flooding or a blocked water supply. If you see a leak, you need to repair the pipe before trying to defrost it. You need to turn off the main supply first, then open a few faucets along the line to promote drainage. Then you can use a hair dryer or heat blanket directly on the pipe to thaw the line.

Home improvement stores sell joiners that can be used to couple plastic or copper tubing. They can even join threaded and unthreaded pipe together. Measure the section of broken pipe to determine size and materials, then cut out the part and take it to the store to buy replacements.

If the damage is excessive to the point you need clamps or soldering gear, you may want to call in a plumber. Then you may have to explain why you never wrapped your pipes.

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