Here's How to Prevent Your Pipes from Freezing During Cold Ohio Months

Frozen copper pipe - Thomas & Galbraith Heating, Cooling, & Plumbing

As winter rolls through the Cincinnati area at full force, homeowners need to be prepared to prevent freezing pipes, a common wintertime plumbing issue. Key preventive measures ahead of time and proactive tasks during cold spells help protect your home’s plumbing system to lower the likelihood of frozen pipes this season.

The licensed Cincinnati plumbers of Thomas & Galbraith share pro tips to help homeowners prevent freezing pipes. Learn what to do ahead of time as well as during periods of cold weather to reduce your risk of pipe freezes. We also cover the signs of frozen pipes and what to do to correct the problem. If you need plumbing help this winter, due to frozen pipes or other issues, call Thomas & Galbraith for fast, dedicated plumbing repair services.

What’s the Big Deal About Frozen Pipes?

When water freezes, it expands. Freezing water within plumbing pipes is a serious problem, because the expanding ice places excess pressure on the pipe. Have you ever frozen water in a glass, and it broke? The same can happen with your plumbing lines – frozen water within leads to small cracks as well as pipe bursts.

In addition to the pressure from the ice itself, an ice plug within a pipe stops the flow of water. Water pressure builds behind the blockage, which also places more pressure on the pipe itself. Frozen pipes often lead to leaks, major and minor. These leaks may go unnoticed, which leads to significant water damage in the home.

Home Improvements Help Prevent Freezing Pipes

To prevent freezing pipes at home, you want to protect pipes exposed to cold temperatures throughout the winter. These maintenance and home improvement tasks help you protect your plumbing system and prevent freezing pipes throughout the winter months.

  • Drain water from outdoor spigots
  • Increase insulation
  • Air seal cracks and openings

Drain Outdoor Spigots

The outdoor spigot where your garden hose attaches is known in the plumbing industry as a hose bib. Before cold weather hits, your hose bibs require some care to prevent freezing pipes come winter. 

The first thing to do is to disconnect and drain your garden hose. You don’t want to leave these outside during the winter, as water inside freezes and expands to damage the hose. Drain them, coil them up, and store them in the garage or shed until spring.

Now it’s time to drain your hose bib. Some homes have more than one, such as in the front and rear of the house, so be sure to do the following for each hose bib:

  • Locate the hose bib’s shutoff valve – it’s inside your basement, crawlspace, or along the interior wall where the hose bib is installed. Turn the valve off to cut off water flow.
  • Go outside and open the hose bib. Allow water to drain out. You want to keep the hose bib open throughout the winter season. This way, any water that makes its way into the pipe is able to drain out, instead of becoming trapped where it is able to freeze within.
  • Go back to the shutoff valve and locate the bleed valve, which is usually below. Set a bucket or bowl underneath, open the valve, and let any leftover water drain out.

Many homeowners upgrade to frost-free hose bibs to avoid the risk of frozen pipes in the winter. Frost-free hose bibs feature a longer supply pipe so its shutoff valve is situated closer to the home’s interior where temperatures are warmer. The pipe is also positioned at a downward slope so water is able to easily drain out instead of remain within and freeze. Our plumbers are able to install new frost-free hose bibs at your home to lessen your maintenance duties and help you prevent freezing pipes.

Add Insulation

Many of the areas plumbing lines run are uninsulated, so the temperatures in these areas are lower. Pipes in these spots are more likely to freeze. One home improvement task that helps prevent freezing pipes is to add insulation in areas where pipes run. When you up insulation levels of walls, ceilings, and below flooring, more heat is kept within to protect your pipes.

Also, add insulation directly to pipes, especially those that run through uninsulated parts of the home. Fiberglass and foam tube insulation sleeves wrap around plumbing pipes to reduce exposure to cold temperatures and prevent freezing pipes. 

Air Sealing

Air sealing around your foundation and exteriors helps reduce infiltration of cold winter air to protect plumbing lines and prevent freezing pipes. Walk around the exterior of your home and look for cracks, gaps, and spaces that provide a passageway for cold outdoor air to enter your home. Depending on the materials surrounding the crack, use spray foam insulation or caulk to fill the space and seal the area. Air sealing helps your home retain heat.

If your home is on a crawlspace, take time during this inspection to ensure your crawlspace vents are closed. Close these vents to keep warm air in the crawlspace and prevent cold outdoor air from moving in. When your vents are closed, the risk of frozen pipes is reduced.

What to Do When Cold Weather Hits to Prevent Freezing Pipes

Throughout the winter, keep an eye on the local forecast. There are measures to take to prevent freezing pipes specifically during periods of below-freezing temperatures. If a cold spell is expected, take these steps:

  • Make sure the home’s heat is on and set above 50 degrees. Though it is tempting to turn heat off while vacationing or in vacant homes, if you do so, you increase the risk of pipe freezes. With heating systems set above 50 degrees, the home is kept warm enough to help lower the likelihood of frozen pipes.
  • Expose pipes to more warmth during periods of cold weather. Open the cabinet doors to warm pipes below sinks. Keep doors to utility and laundry rooms open in order to heat plumbing in these areas. It is especially important to do so for any pipes that run along exterior walls of the home, as they are more exposed to the cold outdoor weather than piping towards the home’s interior. With cabinets and doors open, warm air is able to circulate through the space and help prevent freezing pipes.
  • Allow taps to run. Let a minimal stream of cold water run from your home’s faucets, especially those fed by plumbing pipes exposed to cold temperatures. With water continuing to move through the piping, the risk of pipe freezes is reduced.

Frozen Pipes – Warning Signs

Unfortunately, some pipes still freeze despite your work to prevent freezing pipes. Since leaks and pipe bursts are possible results of frozen pipes, you want to be diligent in monitoring for the signs of a frozen pipe, so that you are able to thaw it and prevent damage.

Signs that point to a frozen pipe include:

  • Uneven water supply, little water, or no water comes from taps when you turn them on
  • Smells from faucets and drains, which can be caused when a pipe is blocked by ice
  • Frost on pipes you are able to see
  • Damp walls or pipe leaks visible to the eye
  • Whistling noises from pipes, which are common when a pipe bursts

What to Do If Pipes Freeze

If you suspect a pipe has frozen in your home, you need to locate the spot where freezing has occurred in order to assess the situation and thaw it. You want to check the pipe first to see if any leaks have formed before you thaw it – thawing a burst pipe can cause significant water damage quickly. If you notice a burst pipe or leaks, shut off water supply at your home’s main water shutoff valve then call your plumber for assistance.

Water flow issues from a single tap point to a frozen pipe along that fixture’s supply line, if all other taps in the home seem to have normal water flow. If all taps seem to be affected, there could be a frozen section along your home’s main water supply pipes.

If there are no signs of leaks or pipe damage, start to thaw pipes by following these directions:

  1. Open the tap, which allows melted ice water to exit the pipe. This also allows water to run and assist in melting ice.
  2. Apply heat to the frozen pipe. Use a hair dryer, portable space heater, electric heating pad applied to the pipe, or warm, wet towels wrapped around the pipe. Never use heaters that give off high temperatures or have open flames, and these devices could damage your plumbing.
  3. Keep heat on the pipe until there is normal water pressure from your taps.
  4. Continue monitoring the plumbing for leaks that may have been caused by freezing.

If you cannot find the frozen pipe, call for plumbing repair. Our plumbers locate frozen pipes and safely thaw them to restore water flow in the home. We also inspect for damage and make any needed repairs to prevent leaks and water damage.

Winter Plumbing Help from Thomas & Galbraith

For help to prevent freezing pipes or assistance when frozen pipes need thawed, call Thomas & Galbraith. Our licensed plumbers are available 24/7 to help you prevent plumbing damage and stop frozen pipes in your Cincinnati home.

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