It’s just about winter here in Houston, which usually occurs on a Tuesday afternoon in January for about an hour. And what a terrible sixty minutes it will be if you haven’t prepared your plumbing for the cold.
Of course, we’re kidding, but while it’s true that our location in southeast Texas protects us from the piles of snow and icy roads, we do get a few bitter cold snaps each year. Unless you’re originally from “up north,” you probably don’t even think about winterizing your plumbing each year. That neglect can make itself known on the very first cold morning of the season with pipes that have frozen. It doesn’t take a lot of effort or a visit from your local plumbing company to get your pipes prepared for winter. Protecting your pipes from freezing temperatures is a task that any homeowner can do for themselves.
The key to preventing frozen pipes around your home is making sure your pipes do not get cold enough to freeze. Freezing temperatures can do a tremendous amount of damage to your home’s plumbing system. With what is sure to be the upcoming freezing temperatures here in Houston, we wanted to make sure you’re prepared to prevent your pipes from freezing.
What Can I Do to Prevent Frozen Pipes?
In newer homes with slab foundations, there isn’t very much plumbing exposed to the elements. Older Houston homes built on pier-and-beam foundations have plumbing and gas line pipes that are much more vulnerable to severe weather conditions. Regardless of your foundation type, any visible pipes around your home will benefit from any form of insulation.
Foam and fiberglass pipe wraps are very inexpensive, easy to cut, and can be installed with a few plastic zip ties. For an added layer of protection, electric heating wraps are a wise investment for water supply lines. Electric pipe wraps can be purchased for as little as $30 and can save you thousands of dollars by preventing frozen or burst pipes and the damage they can cause.
Leave the Water Dripping:
In Houston, thanks to the work of our TV and radio meteorologists, we have a lot of advance notice when freezing temperatures are imminent. Leaving a small trickle of water running in several sinks will keep the water in your supply lines moving and not allowing it to sit idle in the pipes and freeze. This applies to any outdoor faucets or hose bibs around the home, as these fixtures are in direct battle with the cold temperatures.
Disconnect AND Drain Garden Hoses:
Leaving a garden hose attached to an open spigot is a mistake people make every year, usually during the first freeze of the season. Any water in a garden hose in hard freeze conditions (less than 25 degrees for more than 4 hours) will expand, usually damaging the hose (if you’re lucky) and could cause the supply pipe for that fixture to burst as well.
Don’t just disconnect the hose and leave it outside full of water. Use a nozzle attachment to drain as much water as possible from the hose with the spigot off. Once it is disconnected, roll it up to aid with draining and store it in a garage or shed to prevent any damage to the hose.
Open the Cabinets:
Many kitchen and bathroom sinks are installed on exterior walls, meaning any pipes going to that fixture are subject to freezing. Opening the cabinets under the bathroom and kitchen sinks allow warm air to circulate the pipes, keeping them above freezing.
Opening the cabinets under your kitchen sink and beneath your bathroom vanities will allow warm air to circulate around the water supply pipes to these fixtures.
Leave the Heat On:
When you leave the house for work in the morning, or you’re going out for a short amount of time, leave the heat in your home turned on. Turning off the heat when you go out can cause the uninsulated areas around your pipes to get cold enough to freeze.
Sprinkler System Backflow:
Since the entirety of your sprinkler system is outdoors, it reigns as the most likely component of your plumbing system to freeze. Getting your sprinkler system ready for freezing temperatures is incredibly simple; you can do it yourself in five minutes with a flat-head screwdriver.
First, turn off the controller for your sprinkler system, then locate the backflow preventer and use the valve handle to turn off the water supply.
Locate the two bleeder valve set screws on the side of the fixture and turn each one approximately one-quarter of a turn (so that the screw slot is parallel to the pipe), which will release a spray of any standing water from within the backflow preventer.
And you’re done.
What if My Pipes are Already Frozen?
If despite all your best efforts, your pipes freeze overnight, it isn’t necessary to panic. Here in Houston, it is rare that we experience a “hard freeze,” so the temperature doesn’t get low enough to cause any damage on most nights. When the outdoor temperature rises, your pipes should thaw on their own.
Just because your pipes thaw out does not mean you’re entirely out of the woods. Freezing water expands and can cause breaks in your lines and fittings that will eventually start to leak. Following a hard freeze, be sure to look around your home, underneath sinks and vanities for any wet spots that would indicate a leak. Be sure to look around outside your home for any new pools of water or signs of leaks like small sinkholes.
To ensure your home’s plumbing system is free of leaks after the short winter in Houston, give Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning a call to schedule your complete plumbing system inspection.