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Preparing Water Pipes for Winter
Don't Let Cold Weather Catch You Unprepared
  • Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses. Detaching the hose allows water to drain from the faucet keeping the faucet and/or pipe from bursting from a hard freeze.
  • Insulate pipes or faucets in unheated areas.  If you have pipes in the attic, unheated garage, or cold crawl space, wrap the water pipes before temperatures plummet.
  • Install heat tape or similar materials on all exposed water pipe (exterior pipe or pipe located where the temperature might drop below freezing.  It is relatively easy to install and can be found at local hardware or building supply stores.  Be sure that you use only UL-listed products and follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully.
  • Seal off access doors, air vents and cracks.  Winter winds coming through overlooked openings can quickly freeze exposed water pipes.
  • Know where the master shutoff valve is.  If a pipe bursts anywhere in the house, shutting this valve off will turn the water off to the house.  Paint the valve a bright color and be sure all family members know where this master valve is and what it is for.
  • In severe cold weather, you may want to allow a faucet to drip in a small continuous stream.
  • Check your meter pit to ensure the lid is on and the metal ring is buried.  The ring should not be sitting on top of the ground. Covering the meter pit with plastic or an old blanket during extremely cold conditions will keep the underground pipes and meter from freezing.

What to do if Pipes do Freeze:
If you think you know where the freeze up occurred and you want to try to thaw the frozen pipe yourself, do NOT under any circumstances, use a torch with an open flame.  The whole house could catch fire.  Also, overheating a single spot on the pipe could burst the pipe.  Heating a soldered joint could allow the joint to leak or come completely apart.

The easiest tool is probably a hair dryer with a high heat setting.  Wave the warm air back and forth along the pipe. Do NOT heat only one spot on the pipe.  If you don't have a hair dryer, you can wrap the frozen section with rags or towels and pour hot water over them.  It's messy, but it works.  Before you try either of these techniques, turn the master shutoff valve so that water to the house is turned off. 

If you decide to use the hair dryer or wrap the pipe, be careful as the pipe may already be broken.  It may not be leaking at the time because the water is frozen.  When you thaw the frozen pipe, water could come gushing out.  Have a plumbers number on hand in case of an emergency.

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