Preventing & Protecting Pipes From Freezing in Houston

Prepare Your Outdoor Pipes for Freezing Temperatures!

The Ice Age Cometh to Houston!

Okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but have you watched the news this week? Our local weather folks are predicting temperatures colder than the Houston area has seen in decades. One report suggested it could get as cold as 5 degrees this coming Monday, and we haven’t seen it that cold here since January of 1930. 

This upcoming arctic weather blast is also bringing a couple of friends along with it, known as snow and freezing rain. None of this is good news, not for people, not for plants (cover them up), not for pets (bring those butts inside), not for our plumbing. Every time the weather so much as flirts with freezing temperatures, we get tons of calls from homeowners with outdoor pipes that have burst. This upcoming cold snap will catch a lot of people off-guard, and there’s bound to be many who experience the heartache of a burst pipe. 

While reading this blog won’t be enough to protect your home from the imminent brutal weather forecast, maybe we’ll mention something you overlooked while doing your preparations. 

How Quickly Can My Exposed Pipes Freeze?

It doesn’t take long for exposed outdoor plumbing pipes to freeze up and cause damage to your plumbing system. On a 20-degree day, it would only take between 3 and 4 hours to freeze the water in your supply line from the water meter, creating a situation where the pipe can burst. With predictions for this arctic blast calling for temperatures as low as 10 degrees, many exposed and unprotected water lines are bound to snap before it’s over. 

What Are the Best Ways to Avoid Frozen Pipes? 

Wrap Exposed Pipes with Insulation: The most important thing any homeowner can do to prevent frozen pipes is to protect any exposed outdoor pipes with some form of insulation. Any big-box home improvement store will have several options available, from simple foam and fiberglass sleeves to put over your pipes to electrical heating tapes to keep them toasty. When temperatures are predicted to be as cold as we’re hearing, ANY protection around your pipes is better than nothing. If you’re installing your pipe insulation, don’t forget to wrap any pipe bends and any plumbing fittings that are exposed to the elements. If using split-foam insulation as a pipe wrap, be sure to secure it with either plastic zip-ties or even duct tape will work. 

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.

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.   

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Backflow Prevention Valve

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 around the pipes, keeping them above freezing. 

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. Also, leaving your HVAC system idle during a cold snap can cause water in your vent drains to freeze, causing the drain lines to burst. 

Leave Water Trickling from Several Faucets: Running water doesn’t freeze, so maintaining at least a minimal, constant water flow through your pipes will help prevent a hard freeze. Open the faucets to allow a small trickle to flow at every sink, bathtub, or other plumbing fixture located on an exterior wall. 

Suppose you’re still unsure what you can do to prevent frozen pipes or need a professional opinion. In that case, Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning will be available throughout the rough weather to answer any questions. If you find yourself with a frozen or burst pipe, call Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning for a cost evaluation or second opinion on any plumbing repair. 

We’re on the Way. 

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