With Winter Comes Threat of Frozen Pipes

It’s a telltale sign: you turn on the faucet and … nothing.

With record cold in much of the nation this winter, many homeowners have had (or will have) to deal with pipes freezing — and then bursting.

Some tips on how to protect against frozen pipes, and what to do if one does freeze:

Before the Freeze

Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, so keep your thermostat significantly higher than that. “You should never turn it below 55,” Foley said.

You might leave the water dripping a little bit, advised Ken Collier, editor-in-chief of The Family Handyman.

“That just keeps enough water moving in the pipe so it’s less likely to freeze,” he said. “If there is some freezing, there is some give in the system because the faucet is open a little bit.”

When a Pipe Freezes

Do frozen pipes always burst? “You can get lucky,” Collier said.

“Once it’s frozen, the damage is done,” he said. “Some kinds of pipes break easier than others when the water inside freezes.”

Copper pipes are said to be more vulnerable. It may seem obvious, but there are two clear ways to know if a pipe has frozen.

“A sign of a frozen pipe is you have no water,” Foley said.

The other sign: flooding. That can happen when the burst pipe starts to thaw out and the water begins flowing again.

It’s critical that homeowners know how to shut off the water to the entire house; that’s “usually the only way to get the water pressure off the frozen place,” Collier said.

What Next?

Call a plumber, unless you have the skills and confidence to do the repair yourself.

A temporary fix might involve cutting away the damaged piece of pipe and replacing it with a rubber hose and clamps until the plumber gets there. The degree of difficulty could depend on how accessible the pipe is.

There also are various tapes and putties that might temporarily close the break. And call your insurance agent.