With unexpected snowfall earlier this month, residents in the greater Richmond area are beginning to prepare for the cold. This means buying over-sized snuggies and obscene amounts of instant hot chocolate... and winterizing your home.
With all the joyful things the winter season brings, frozen pipes are not one of them. In this blog post, we will go over what conditions cause frozen pipes so you know when to be careful of frozen pipe disasters. We’ll also go over how you can avoid frozen pipes and what to do if your pipes actually freeze.
Assessing Your Risk of Frozen Pipes
Crisp Cold Air - And Other Causes
Cold weather can easily result in frozen pipes, putting them at risk for bursting and thrusting you into a plumbing emergency. Pipes become susceptible to freezing when outdoor temperatures sit around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Virginia is at 20%-85% probability of at least one pipe freeze. That said, let’s go over which months are predicting freezing temperatures and what you can do to avoid pipe freezes!
Temperatures in Richmond typically reach freezing degrees and snowfall between early December and early March. In December, the average low temperature sits below freezing at 31.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, January and February see below freezing temperatures averaging at 28.3 and 30.5 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. Be sure to prepare for these months by proactively preparing your pipes for potential freezes. Recent studies show that during these months, freezing is most likely to occur around dawn hours between 5 AM and 8 AM.
With cold temperatures, comes snow and with snow, comes freezing pipes! You will want to make sure you know when snow is predicted to fall so that you’re properly prepared. There’s nothing worse than having your winter joy bubble burst when you realize one of your pipes have burst. Statistics suggest that snowfall will likely occur periodically through December and into early March. The average snowfall during these months will vary between 2 inches of snowfall and 4 inches, making for a cold winter.
Protecting Your Pipes from Frigid Freezes
A cold winter can turn your water pipes into tasteless pipe popsicles. To combat this popsiclization, make sure you know the material of your pipes and where they are located. Because certain materials are more apt to freezing than others, you should know if you have copper or plastic pipes.
Know Your Pipes
The most popular types of pipes are the following:
- Copper - copper pipes can lose their heat rapidly if there is sectional cooling on an uninsulated, exposed part of the pipe. This means they can freeze easier than plastic pipes.
- Plastic - plastic pipes, because they are more flexible, are less likely to rupture with freezing, as they will stretch accordingly with the water pressure.
- Rigid PVC/CPVC (polyvinyl chloride pipes/post chlorinated polyvinyl chloride pipes) - these are rigid plastic pipes that have the ability to expand in tandem with the water pressure. However, they are more likely to become brittle and thus vulnerable to breaking in cold temperatures.
- Flexible PEX (crosslinked polyethylene pipes) - this type of pipe is more flexible than PVC and CPVC pipes, with their material stretching to accommodate internal pressures. A PEX pipe may freeze and dethaw without risking rupture.
Assess the Location of Your Pipes
If your pipes freeze and you don’t know where the location of the pipe is, it can be very difficult to find the source of the plumbing problem. Before winter hits at full force, be sure to locate your pipes. You should know whether they are in a warm location or an area prone to freezing so you can take all the necessary precautions. Once you’ve located where your pipes are, you will need to make sure that they have the appropriate amount of insulation for where they are located.
You will want to make sure your pipes are well-insulated in unheated areas of your home and along exterior walls. Attics, basements, crawlspaces, garages and beneath kitchen and bathroom cabinets are common areas for unheated pipes.
The first step to fight winter freezing in Virginia is to insulate your pipes. Exposed, uninsulated pipes are more susceptible to freezing. Insulation equates to more protection from the chilly air, making pipe-freezing less likely.
To help fight that winter freeze and avoid a plumbing disaster that comes with burst pipes, consider installing insulative-specific products. Here are some examples of helpful pipe insulation:
- Pipe sleeve
- Heat tape
- Heat cable
- Newspaper (home remedy)
Heat tape and other thermostatically controlled cables can be used to wrap pipes, thoroughly insulating them from the harsh winter elements. Be certain to insulate both hot and cold water pipes.
Other Combative Remedies - Let Them Sink In
Be sure to seal any leaks that are allowing cold air to creep inside areas of your house where pipes are located. Air leaks can be found around any electrical wiring, dryer vents and pipes. You can use caulk or the other forms of insulation to keep the cold out.
If a serious cold front is forecasted, we recommend disconnecting your hoses and trickling water from your faucets and other exposed pipes. For the outside hoses, open the valves that will allow the water to drain. You will want to keep these valves open so that water that remains in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
Another tip for homeowners going out of town for the holidays is to set your interior temperatures to no lower than 55 degrees. This will allow for warm air to ventilate in all areas, nooks and crannies of your home. Open your kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate to pipes that aren’t insulated.
What To Do If They Freeze
If your pipes happen to freeze, we advise you to take immediate action. Make sure you keep your faucet open, as running water will help thaw the ice. In dethawing your pipes, apply heat to the section closest to the faucet. Here are some tools you can use to defrost your pipes:
- Electric heating pad
- Electric hair dryer
- Portable space heater
- Towels soaked in hot water
If you find that one pipe has frozen, be sure to check all pipes in your home to see if any other pipes need attention. When one pipe freezes, they all have the potential to freeze. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, contact your local plumber.
We hope this pipe protection and dethawing of pipes guide has helped you in proactively preventing frozen pipes! If you have any questions at all about how to properly winterize your home, please do not hesitate to contact us at 804-641-6570.