Cranking Up the Heat? Exterior Water Pipes May be at Risk for Freezing

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With frigid temperatures across the Midwest and Northeastern United States this winter, many homeowners cranked up the heat. A recent survey from HomeServe USA of 2,035 U.S. adults found that in the past month, more than 1 in 4 (28 percent) who have control over the temperature in their home typically set their thermostats to higher than a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Roughly half (52 percent) maintained their households in the 66 to 70 degree Fahrenheit range. 

Keeping the heat turned up can cost you a pretty penny, but with 2014 ranking among the top 10 snowiest winters for a number of major cities, you may think it’s well worth the extra expense. However, if you’re going to be running your heat on high all winter long – and even if you’re not — you may want to avoid other pricey cold weather expenses. 

While cranking the heat keeps it toasty in your home, the freezing temperatures could cause damage to water pipes running into the house or hidden behind in exterior facing walls. When pipes freeze and then thaw, they are at risk for breaks, which can be extremely expensive to repair — sometimes in the thousands of dollars range.

Here are a few common questions about frozen water pipes and what can be done to protect them.

How do I know which pipes are at risk of freezing?

If your water pipes come up from an un-insulated crawl space, or if they are in, or close to, an outside wall or a vent, they have a greater chance of freezing and bursting in cold weather.

What can I do if I suspect that my pipes might freeze?

Keeping the water running through a pipe helps keep it from freezing. If the temperature drops suddenly for an extended period, set your faucet to a steady drip or slow trickle. Insulating the pipes can also help. Pipe insulation is easy to apply and readily available at most hardware and home stores.

What should I do if I think my pipes have frozen overnight?

If you turn on the faucet and no water comes out, leave the faucet open / running slightly while you explore the problem. Slowly warm the pipe using a portable space heater in the area near the pipe, or gently warm it with a hairdryer until the water runs more steadily again. Consider insulating the area and piping itself to prevent further occurrences.

What about the water pipes outside my home? Are they at risk for freezing and breaking too?

Yes. With extreme cold temperatures occurring in many areas of the country, the frost line is moving deeper. This, along with shifting soil, can affect service piping of all ages and types. Because many basic homeowners' insurance policies do not cover the water line that runs from the home to the street, planning ahead with a service plan is a great option to help manage the expensive cost and inconvenience of an underground leak. Water line protection from HomeServe plans cost about $5 a month and can cover the cost of the repair and provide services when a leak or break on this piping occurs.

By: Myles Meehan

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