Protect pipes during cold weather

Published 8:35 am Thursday, February 19, 2015

AHOSKIE – ‘Drip, drip, drip’ is usually a precursor that something bad is about to happen very slowly.

But if you’re out to safeguard and take precautions with your plumbing during the deep freeze that’s expected in this area the next few days, a little drip may be a lifesaver.

“Water has a unique property in that it expands as it freezes,” says J.S. Cain of the Triangle Red Cross in Raleigh. “This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. No matter the ‘strength’ of a container, expanding water can cause pipes to break.”

“Pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets. Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation are also subject to freezing,” the Red Cross official adds.

Among the primary precautions homeowners should take, even in mobile and modular homes:

Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.

Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing.

When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.

“Make sure your foundation vents are closed,” says John Farmer of Ahoskie’s White and Woodley Mechanical Contractors. “Make sure your manholes are also closed.  Make sure your water hoses are unhooked from any outside spigots.”

As for the drip, drip, drip of indoor faucets, Farmer says that’s the best preventive to maintain.

“You’re going to have to leave some water running,” he adds. “There’s just no other way to do it.  In mobile homes, if you can insulate the water lines then do it. The rest of the mobile home plumbing in the flooring and should be okay as long as they’ve got the heat on.”

Another caveat is that many mobile home dwellers use other heat sources, and that compromises their plumbing protection in extreme cold temperatures.

“The biggest problem is that most people don’t use the heat source that comes with their mobile homes,” Farmer cautions. “They use kerosene heaters, the pipes freeze and burst, and then you’ve got more problems because the floor will buckle from the moisture.”

Whether it’s a mobile dwelling with underpinning or a solid permanent home on foundation, leaving a dripping faucet is the plumber’s best advice.

“Try to keep the cold air off of (the pipes) as much as you can, let some water spigots drip,” he warns.

But it’s also not just the cold water pipes one should be concerned with by leaving a water trickle.  Hot water pipes can be damaged by severe cold also.

“It should be both,” Farmer acknowledges. “If you leave the cold water running that will keep the water line coming into the house from freezing as well as the cold water in the house.  A lot of people cut just one water spigot on, but then the rest of the water line to the other spigots in the house may freeze.  If you just turn one of them on and it’s not the last spigot on the water line then you could still have an issue.  The best thing is just to let all of them drip. At least let something in each bathroom drip.”

For those who may regard that advice as dubious, the plumber says you may incur a higher bill if you’re on metered water, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.

For those fearful of freezing water lines to hot water heaters, Farmer says those pipes should be okay. If your water heater is in good working condition, cold weather will not have an impact on temperature. When you request hot water by turning on a fixture, it will pull water up from the main, through the water heater where it warms the water, and eventually through the plumbing system and out through your fixture, guaranteed.

The conclusion of the plumber’s advice is that prevention is the best maintenance.  However, he does add that if you do have cold weather water issues, keep the phone number of a plumbing pro readily on hand.