How to Prevent Pipes From Freezing this Winter

A burst frozen sprinkler pipe caused by the Wisconsin Polar VortexAccording to the Farmer’s Almanac, this year’s Wisconsin winter might be mild. The Almanac predicts a wet though not so snowy season. This is good news for those who hate shoveling snow. However, don’t let the lack of snow make you complacent. There are still many winter-proofing activities to take into consideration, even in the mildest winter. In the thick of winter, the average highs are often below the freezing point of water. Frigid temperatures over prolonged periods of time can take their toll on your house—especially on your pipes. If this is your first or fiftieth winter in Wisconsin, there are general tips to help prevent pipes from freezing.

Having a pipe freeze and burst can lead to costly repairs in the short-term. That said, if left untreated, or if handled improperly, a single burst pipe can lead to excessive water damage. A single burst pipe can cost around $500 to repair, but water damage restoration can cost thousands, depending on the damage. Bearing this in mind, it is incredibly important to know how to prevent pipes from freezing. In the section below, we’ll lay out 6 tips to help prevent your pipes from freezing and bursting. But first, we’ll answer common questions that will help you understand how to prevent pipes from freezing.

Frequently Asked Questions about Freezing Pipes

At What Temperature Do Pipes Freeze?

As most people know, water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. However, freezing the water inside a pipe requires colder temperatures for a variety of reasons. There are many variables that affect a pipe’s freeze point. For instance, a pipe outside of a home is much more at risk than a pipe buried beneath the ground due to insulation. Additionally, commonly used piping materials (e.g. copper, PVC, etc.) provide different degrees of insulation to the water they carry. The temperature of the water itself also affects the rate at which the pipes freeze. In short, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly at what temperature pipes freeze and burst. That said, you should consider your pipes at risk if they have been exposed to temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than six hours.

How Long Does It Take for Pipes to Freeze?

As stated in the section above, it’s difficult to know just how long it takes for a pipe to freeze. To get a better sense of how at risk your pipes are, be sure to think about the material of the pipes and their place in or around your house. A copper pipe fastened to the side of your house will be much more likely to freeze than a PVC that’s fastened beneath a floorboard with additional insulation. Environmental factors are just as (if not more) important as material factors when it comes to freezing pipes. If you are concerned about a specific pipe, and if you know about the materials used, you can use this calculator to better understand how long it would take for the pipe to freeze.

What Pipes Freeze Most Frequently? 

You might start to see a pattern here! The first pipes to freeze are the ones that are the least insulated from the cold. Most often, these are the pipes outside of your home. If you do not insulate these at-risk pipes, they will almost certainly freeze. The second category of at-risk pipes are pipes in under-insulated portions of your home. These might be exposed pipes in a basement or piping under a sink. Pipes in unprotected or under-protected areas are less at-risk than outside pipes, but be sure to monitor them as well. Fully protected pipes stand a much lower chance of freezing and bursting. Regardless of your pipes’ protection, be sure to monitor the flow of water and note any visible changes. If left unattended, a frozen pipe may burst and cause severe water damage. 

How Do I Know If My Pipes Are Frozen or Damaged?

One of the easiest ways to tell if your pipe is frozen is by turning on a water source. First, turn on the faucet if you suspect your pipe is frozen. If water trickles out very slowly, your pipe might be in the process of freezing; however, if nothing comes out, your pipe could be frozen. In the event that your pipe is frozen, you will have to intervene (more about that later). If, however, only a bit of water comes out, this might be symptomatic of a larger problem—a leaky, broken, or even burst pipe. If you suspect your pipes are leaking, there are many things you can do to identify the leak. First, shut off your water main. A water meter that registers flow even after a shutoff indicates that there may be a leak.

How To Keep Your Pipes from Freezing

Check Your Sprinklers

It’s easy to forget about your sprinkler or irrigation system in the fall and winter. After all, you probably haven’t had to use your sprinklers for weeks or months. That said, sprinkler systems are nothing more than interconnected pipes. Often, these pipes are worn down from wear and tear. This means sprinkler systems are particularly at-risk for frozen pipes and, eventually, bursting pipes. If you haven’t had your sprinkler system inspected, you should consider hiring a contractor who can evaluate the integrity of your system. They can identify weak spots and provide feedback in terms of how to best treat the system. If, however, you do not consult a professional, do everything you can to ensure that your system is completely shut off and drained. By shutting off the entire system, you will increase the likelihood of your pipes making it through a harsh winter.  

Know Where Your Water Shut-off Is Located

This may sound like an obvious suggestion, but not everyone knows where their water shut-off is located. For lucky individuals, knowing exactly where the shut-off valve is located might not be a high priority. However, in a pinch, not knowing its location can lead to horrible problems. If a pipe or series of pipes burst, every second counts. Most water valves are located along the perimeter of your home’s interior. In Southeastern Wisconsin, these valves are often housed in the basement. If, however, you can’t find it and are still unsure, you can always check the inspection paperwork you should have received before buying your house. The information should be in the “plumbing” section.   

Keep Warm Air in Your House

As stated earlier, pipes become at-risk for freezing and bursting due to frigid ambient temperatures. Setting your thermostat no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit will increase the likelihood of your pipes maintaining their integrity. Keeping the heater at an appropriate temperature will keep your pipes warm enough throughout the winter, even if they are not well-insulated. For many, this is the most convenient way to stave off the necessary conditions for freezing pipes. However, heating alone can only go so far. In the absence of a robust central heating system, proper insulation is the way to go. 

Insulate Your Pipes

There are many especially cold spots within any home. These areas are usually in the attic or basement, but crawl spaces are also considered cold spots. When taking inventory of your pipe network, it is important to take careful note of pipes in cold spots. There are multiple solutions for insulating at-risk pipes in cold spots within a house. For an easy quick-fix, you can always wrap these pipes in newspaper or cloth. However, these are only temporary solutions—proper insulation will provide additional benefits to these quick fixes. Fastening pipes with pipe sleeves or heat cables will ensure that your exposed pipes will not freeze. Equipping these kinds of pipes with insulation will serve as the strongest defense against a potential burst pipe. When thinking about winter-proofing your home, addressing these pipes first should be your priority.    

Monitor Pipes on Outer Walls

Pipes on outer walls have the potential to freeze and burst at higher rates than pipes inside your home. This year, Wisconsin is bracing for another polar vortex, which means that Milwaukee, Waukesha, and the surrounding counties will experience temperatures much lower than average. Bearing this in mind, it is important to note that pipes along your outer walls will be the most at-risk for freezing. Luckily, there are a few ways to mitigate this risk. Insulating these outer pipes will significantly reduce the chance of your pipes bursting. Additionally, there are a few life hacks to ensure that pipes connected to your sink won’t burst. For instance, running a steady drip of hot water through your kitchen sink increases the ambient temperature within the pipe network. At the end of the day, these outside pipes need to be protected. So, be sure to start there when winter-proofing your home. 

Insulate Cold Spots in Your Home

Unfortunately, this is perhaps the most difficult piece of advice to implement. There are various avenues for cold air to enter your home. These ways include the following:

  • Applying spray-on insulation to cracks in your foundation
  • Equipping doors with sealers and draft stoppers to doors
  • Replacing or re-sealing windows with caulk or other sealants
  • Adding heavy-duty/thick curtains to windows
  • Plugging chimney when not in use
  • Re-sealing or re-tiling weak spots in your attic or roof

Again, these are not quick-fixes, and some of these fixes are serious investments. That said, when a pipe freezes and bursts, the repair bill can set you back hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Preparing your home in advance will mitigate and, hopefully, eliminate water damage costs. 

What Do I Do If My Pipes Freeze?

If you suspect that your pipes have frozen, there is no immediate cause for concern. And, if you take the right steps, you can certainly address the problem before it really becomes a problem. First, though, you should turn off your water main. This will ensure that additional water does not build up behind the frozen section. If you suspect that the frozen pipe is exposed, you may be in luck. You may simply be able to loosen up the ice within the pipes by using a hair drier or space heater. Once you’ve applied heat to the pipe, you can then attempt to insulate the pipe with a pipe sleeve or other warm material. If, however, you suspect your frozen pipe is behind a wall, you’ll have a deeper problem.

Most individuals have not had to tear out a section of wall in their home. If you haven’t done this yourself, you should probably consider hiring an expert for the job. A trained plumber should be able to handle this job easily. That said, time is of the essence. A frozen pipe left unattended will cause leaks at best. At worst, these pipes will burst and the water damage will spread in the event that your water main is not shut off. Hiring a professional is usually the right, proactive move; and, under most circumstances, plumbers will mitigate the overall costs of the potential damage a burst pipe might incur. When it comes to water damage in Milwaukee, calling in an expert is usually the best course of action. 

What If I Still Need Help?

If you still have questions about how to prevent your pipes from freezing, don’t worry. Kelmann Restoration has your back! Since 1973, Kelmann has provided the best water damage restoration services in Milwaukee. Our experts are friendly, knowledgeable, and professional. There is no job too big or small for Team Kelmann. If you find yourself in a situation where you are at-risk for water damage, contact our awesome staff today. We provide a whole host of emergency services and are always ready to tackle a job.

Additionally, if you are a business owner concerned about water damage or fire damage, sign up for our Team Kelmann Priority Program. Our Priority Program places your commercial property on our priority list at no charge! Together, we will draft a plan before a disaster occurs. This way, if something terrible happens, you’ll know that Kelmann will be there right away with a plan in place. We respond all day, every day, and we will help you along every step of the way. When you need us most, Team Kelmann will be there. 


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