It happens every winter. You don’t leave the heat on when you leave, or the temperature drops so low you don’t even think about the water freezing in the pipes. As much as we know about what to do to protect our homes and apartments, sometimes we just forget.
The problem is, if you forget to leave the faucet running or leave the heat on, your home will most likely flood during the coldest time of the year. This is a nasty predicament to be in, not to mention clean up and pay for.
Preventing Freezing Pipes
The reason you are supposed to leave a faucet dripping or just barely running is because moving water freezes at a lower temperature than still water. This is why lakes are frozen while rivers still run. By keeping the faucet on, you keep the water moving, if only very slightly, and keep it from freezing.
Another reason for bursting pipes is because people commonly turn the heat off when they are going to be away from the house for a few days, instead of just turning it down. Even the most insulated home will drop down to freezing levels if the heat is turned off. Make sure that everyone in the home knows the heat stays on during the winter. Even if it’s positioned at 50 degrees, that will be enough to protect what needs protecting, and it won’t cost that much to heat an empty home to minimal temperatures.
The best answer for pipes is to insulate them. If they are below the home and vulnerable to winds and outdoor temperatures, they definitely need a layer of insulation to keep them protected. This is a really simple solution to a potential problem that could cost thousands.
A great way to ensure that your home will not be flooded when you return is to turn the water off to the house. This idea can eliminate one fear of leaving your home, and is a particularly savvy move during the winter.
Pipes usually leak before they burst, so if you are able to spot a leaking pipe you might just be able to catch the problem before it gets really bad. Turn the water off to the house, then call a plumber.
If a pipe is leaking slowly, during any time of the year, buy some disposable diapers and wrap one around the leak. This will last until it fills up, maybe an hour on a slow leak, but it will protect your floor somewhat from water damage. This is a fast and easy patch on the problem, but not a solution. Call someone immediately to look at it.
Bursting Pipes and Freezing Pipes
If you are at this point, about all you can do it turn the water off and call a plumber. In the meantime, keep everyone away from the water. It will be very cold and can dole out hypothermia if your pets and you are not careful. With boots or rain gear on, try to remove any items that will be in the way of the water, so the damage is minimal. This will also be a big help to your plumber if he has to wade through not only the water in your basement but also floating debris.
After the Damage
As soon as the water has been removed, call a foundation specialist to see what damage was done to the basement walls and foundation. If they have not been sealed, this is a good time to have it done. Just remember to have someone out to make sure everything is on the up and up. A service call or checkup is far less expensive than fixing structural damage.
Winter Plumbing Recap
Always turn off the water to the house when you will be gone for a few days. Never turn the heat completely off during cold weather. Turn it down as far as you like, just not off. If a pipe starts to leak, turn off the water, call a plumber, and wrap it with a disposable diaper until the plumbing contractor arrives. If a pipe is bursting, turn off the water and call a plumber, then remove any items that will be in the water’s path.