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Originally published: 2014-01-21 11:05:45
Last modified: 2014-01-21 11:29:27

Take steps to avoid frozen pipes

by Anna Oakes

Temperatures will fall into the teens and single digits Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, bottoming out at 4 degrees in Boone around 7 a.m. Wednesday, according to the forecast by the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg, Va.


Following are precautions -- suggested by the Institute for Business and Home Safety and the American Red Cross -- that homeowners can take to prevent or mitigate the freezing of household pipes in cold weather. In the South, residential pipes are generally susceptible to freezing when outdoor temperatures fall to 20 degrees or below, according to the University of Illinois Building Research Council.


- Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.


- If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit.


- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.


- 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 -- can help prevent pipes from freezing.


- However, water can freeze even with a slow flow. But opening a faucet will provide relief from the excessive pressure that builds between the faucet and the ice blockage when freezing occurs -- which will help prevent a burst pipe.


- Where both hot and cold lines serve a spigot, make sure each one contributes to the drip, since both are subjected to freezing. If the dripping stops, leave the faucet(s) open, since a pipe may have frozen and will still need pressure relief.


- If you suspect a frozen pipe, call a plumber. If a water pipe bursts, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve (usually at the water meter or where the main line enters the house); leave the faucet(s) open until repairs are completed. Don't try to thaw a frozen pipe with an open flame, as this will damage the pipe and may even start a building fire. You might be able to thaw a pipe with a hand-held hair dryer. Slowly apply heat, starting close to the faucet end of the pipe, with the faucet open. Work toward the coldest section. Don't use electrical appliances while standing in water; you could get electrocuted.


- To prevent the likelihood of frozen pipes in the future, remove, drain and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs while leaving the outdoor hose bibs open to drain. Consider installing products made to insulate water pipes.