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Tips to Prevent Frozen Indoor Pipes in Cincinnati Area Homes and What to Do if Your Pipes Freeze

In the Cincinnati area, wintertime freezing temperatures create the threat of frozen pipes. Exposed pipes and plumbing pipes installed along unheated exterior walls throughout the entire house are at the greatest risk for freezing pipes. The threat of a frozen pipe isn’t only a problem among inside pipes, but water pipes that run outside the home are also at risk, such as water sprinkler lines, swimming pool supply lines, outdoor hose bibs, and the home’s buried water supply pipes.

Frozen water pipes create a real risk of major damage in the home. Metal or plastic pipes can burst when water freezes, as water expands as ice forms inside, and moving water from behind the blockage exerts tremendous pressure on the inner walls of the pipe. The resulting leak from a burst pipe can lead to significant water damage if you are unable to quickly drain water and have water remaining in areas of the house. To avoid these potential seasonal plumbing problems, it’s wise to take actions that help prevent frozen pipes.

Thomas & Galbraith Heating, Cooling & Plumbing offers expert advice to help you prevent pipes from freezing this winter. From preventative measures that work to safeguard your pipes from freezing to security practices that help prevent freezing when temperatures drop, these tips can help you protect your water pipes throughout the season.

If frozen pipes do occur, our licensed Cincinnati plumbers explain how to quickly thaw frozen pipes with items found in the home, like a hair dryer, electric heating pad, portable space heater, heat lamp, or simply towels soaked with hot water. Learn how to safely thaw pipes and avoid using items that could further damage your pipes or home, such as a propane heater, propane torch, charcoal stove, or any other open flame device that may do damage to plastic pipes and cause a house fire by igniting flammable materials.

Home Improvement Tips to Protect Metal or Plastic Pipes from Freezing

Frozen pipes are most likely to occur in water pipes installed within exterior walls of the home or in exposed pipes that run through areas that are unheated or lack protection from insulation. Common areas where exposed pipes are found in a home include basements, crawl spaces, garages, and attics. As freezing pipes are a greater risk to these water pipes than pipes installed toward the home’s interior, focusing your efforts in these areas will greatly help reduce the risk of a frozen pipe this winter.

Below are some top home improvement projects that provide protection for your home’s water pipes and will help prevent frozen water pipes within the house.

  • Adding insulation directly to exposed pipes will help these pipes retain heat while also shielding them against cold temperatures from within the areas the pipes run. You can obtain pipe sleeves from a home improvement store, which are commonly made from fiberglass or foam. These sleeves are installed around the pipes – this is a project that is affordable and easy to complete for many Cincinnati homeowners.

  • Products such as heat tape or heat cable can also be applied to vulnerable pipes in the home. The material is installed around the pipe and connected to an electrical source. A thermostat detects temperatures within the area – when the area reaches the same temperature the product is programmed for, it will turn on and use electricity to generate heat, warming the pipe to prevent freezing within.

  • Unheated areas where pipes run, such as your crawl space, attic, basement, or garage, often lack enough insulation to protect against frozen pipes. Installing more insulation in these areas will help the space better hold heat, keeping warm air around the pipes instead of chilly air. You can use foam board insulation, fiberglass batts, and other materials, depending on where the material will be installed.

  • Air sealing helps keep cold air out of unheated areas like your crawl space, attic, garage, or basement. Expanding foam or silicone caulk can be applied to cracks, gaps, and other openings in exterior walls that allow cold, outdoor air through to the interior of the home.

  • Pressure relief valves installed along plumbing pipes can help you avoid pipe bursts should freezing pipes occur. The valve releases pressure from inside the pipes, alleviating stress to pipe walls that can lead to bursting. Discuss this option with your plumber, as you’ll need a professional to install these plumbing products.

How to Reduce the Risk of Frozen Pipes When Temperatures Drop

Anytime outdoor temperatures drop to 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below for a period of at least six hours, the risk of frozen pipes is present. During these times, there are measures you can take to help avoid frozen pipes in an exterior wall of your home as well as in unheated areas.

  • Keep cabinet doors open to fixtures installed along outer walls of the home. Doing so will allow warmer air from the home to circulate and keep the area around the pipes warmer.

  • Keep garage doors closed as much as possible to protect pipes installed in the garage. Only open garage doors when needed and do not leave them open longer than necessary to help the space retain as much heat as possible and prevent infiltration of cold, outdoor air.

  • Raise the heat in your home a few degrees higher than normal when freezing temperatures this low are expected, which will provide warmer air throughout the home to reduce the risk of frozen pipes.

  • Never turn off the home’s heat completely during the winter, even when your home will be vacant. While many homeowners turn back the heating temperature during periods where the home is empty to save money, don’t lower the temperature below 55 degrees. To best safeguard against frozen pipes, keep your thermostat between 60 to 68 degrees.

  • Add heat to unheated spaces where pipes are exposed during the period of cold outdoor conditions. Use an electric space heater to temporarily increase the temperature in these areas and lower the likelihood of a frozen pipe.

  • Leave the faucet open a bit on all fixtures across the home, especially those installed along the outer walls of the house. This will keep the water supply moving, which helps prevent freezing pipes.

How to Thaw a Frozen Pipe Inside Exterior Walls or in Exposed Areas

During periods of extreme cold where a frozen pipe is possible, it’s important to watch for warning signs that occur when pipes freeze. Low water pressure from faucets and fixtures or even no water supply, when you turn on a cold water tap, is the most common sign of a frozen pipe. An active leak is a sign that a frozen pipe has already burst – disconnect water by closing the main shutoff valve to the home’s water supply line to prevent further damage and drain water from impacted areas as quickly as possible.

Before you begin the thawing process, identify the frozen area of piping. To thaw pipes, apply heat to the frozen area. Before you apply heat to a frozen pipe, make sure you have the faucet open. An open faucet allows water from melted ice to run out of the pipe so you can assess when the job is finished.

  • Apply heat to the frozen area of pipe directly. Wrap an electric heating pad around the pipe or even towels soaked in hot water. You can also use a hair dryer to heat up the pipe, just be sure to hold it several inches away from the pipe and directly against the water line.

  • Add indirect heat to help melt ice and thaw a frozen pipe, warming the area where the pipe sits. Space heaters can be placed near the pipe in an unheated area, just keep a safe distance to avoid any damage to the pipe itself. Electric space heaters are best for this job – never use a propane torch, propane heater, charcoal stove, or any other open flame device as these tools could ignite flammable materials and start a house fire, or cause damage to pipes, especially those made of plastic.

  • To apply heat to frozen pipes running within walls, set up an infrared heat lamp near the frozen area. This tool will help warm the area around the pipe and melt ice within.

Once you observe normal water pressure and full water supply from the faucet, the frozen pipe should be clear of ice. Go ahead and close the faucet at this point. Once the thawing process is finished, you should check pipes for signs of damage and look for leaks. A frozen pipe can suffer damage ranging from hairline cracks that aren’t yet leaking or large ruptures from bursting, which can cause tremendous leaks. Freezing can damage one pipe or many. Damp spots that develop on walls are sign of a leak in a pipe behind the wall. If you find any signs of damage to your pipes or leaks, call your plumber for repairs.

Help for Frozen Pipes in Cincinnati

Prevent frozen pipes this winter by taking the steps outlined above, now and whenever cold conditions are expected in our area. If you experience frozen pipes and are unable to thaw pipes yourself or suffer a leak when a pipe bursts, call Thomas & Galbraith for emergency plumbing services.

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