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How to Prevent Frozen Water Pipes
Water expands when it freezes into ice. Unfortunately, water pipes (usually metal or plastic) don’t. This puts a frozen water pipe in danger of bursting, causing a costly mess. The good news is that you can prevent pipes from freezing in the first place by keeping them warm. If you’re leaving for an extended period of time in the winter, you can and should drain your water lines. On the other hand, if a deep freeze hits your pipes before you can take action, you can thaw them safely.

Method One of Three:
Keeping the Pipes Warm

Wrap heater tapes around the pipes. Buy UL-endorsed tape with a built-in thermostat. This safety precaution will prevent the tape from overheating You can either wrap the tape around the pipes or run them along the length of the pipes. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to use the tape.
While you can lay insulation over some tapes, others might cause the insulation to catch fire. Always read the safety information before installing the tape.
Alternatively, you could use a heated reflector lamp in a dry enclosed space. On cold nights, check the light to see that it is working.[1]

Insulate all water pipes from cold moving air. Wrap pipes in foam rubber insulation designed for pipes. Make sure that there aren’t any gaps between the pipe and the insulation. Miter any strips of insulation that meet at the corners of pipes. Secure them with duct tape. Keep the foam dry as you insulate.
Insulation alone doesn’t prevent freezing. It only slows down the transfer rate of heat to cold.[2]
Insulate and heat the drain lines. Apply foam rubber insulation in the same way you insulated the pipes. Pay attention to bathroom and kitchen sinks. Don’t overlook lines in crawl spaces and cold basements. On especially cold days, direct a heat lamp on the drain P-trap.[3]
If you’re concerned about a fire hazard, keep the cabinet doors beneath the kitchen and bathroom sinks open to allow warm air to circulate around the pipes.[4]
Open the tap on cold days without power. If you lose electric power, let the water run no faster than a slow constant drip. This is cheaper than repairing a burst pipe. First, start a slow drip on the hot side faucet, then a faster drip on the cold side faucet. There is no need to run a lot of water. Bathrooms can be cold, as long as they aren’t freezing.[5]
Use a thermal convection-powered hot water recirculation valve. This doesn’t require electricity to operate. It bypasses the drain and continuously circulates warm water through the waterlines. Turn the water off at the main source before installing. Remove the valves under the sink with a mini hacksaw. Use the included connecting joints to attach the valve to the copper fitting from the wall. Secure the fittings to the pipes with a wrench. Switch off the valve whenever you don’t want the water to circulate.
This method requires that the valve be installed at a higher level (usually the second or third floor) than the water heater.
Circulating water throughout your system non-stop will also increase your water heating bill.[6]
Use a RedyTemp. This device uses an internal water contacting temperature probe to monitor the water temperature inside the pipes. Disconnect one end of the existing faucet supply lines. Attach them to the RedyTemp. Connect the two faucet supply lines that come with the device. Plug the unit into a standard wall socket and set the desired temperature set point.
Gauge the effectiveness of your chosen set point by opening cold water faucets upstream and feeling how cool or warm the water is coming out the tap. Adjust the set point accordingly until optimized. You’ll achieve an optimized set point when cool or warm water stays in the cold water pipes or the portion of pipe requiring protection.
If you own a tankless on-demand water heater, you’ll need the TL4000 series model rather than the more common ATC3000. During off seasons when you don’t need circulation, lower the temperature set point.[7]
Adjust the thermostat. Set the home or structure’s thermostat to at least 55 °F (13 °C). This will keep the temperature well above the freezing point of water. It will also allow enough warm air to circulate to the attic and behind walls, where pipes are often located.[8]
Method Two of Three:
Draining Your Water Lines
Locate the main water supply. This consists of two parts. You should find one part near the meter on the street side of your house. The location of the second part depends on where you live. If you live in a warm climate, look on an outside wall or in an underground box. If you’re in a colder climate, look in the basement.[9]
Turn off the main water supply. First, open all faucets in the house. Then, shut down both parts of the valve. Make sure that the water flow coming from the faucets stops after a few minutes. If it doesn’t, re-check both parts of the valve and tighten them as best as you can. Call a plumber if you can’t shut off the valve or if any part of the valve breaks.
If you receive well water, turn off its electrical switch to prevent the well from pumping water inside.[10]
Shut off secondary supply valves. Take this step if you have automatic outdoor watering systems that prevent you from shutting off the main water supply. Look for round or oval handles. Turn the handles clockwise (“righty tighty”) to close the valves. Shut off valves to appliances involved in significant drainage. These include:
The dishwasher
The washing machine
The ice maker on the refrigerator
Look for this valve either under the sink or in the basement.[11]
Inspect the supply lines. Look for leaks, rust, cracks, and other evidence of damage. If any areas are damaged, replace them with hoses coated in braided stainless steel. These are more durable than rubber hoses. Call a plumber if you need assistance.[12]
Treat the sump pump. Add a battery backup to the pump in the event of a power failure. Pour water into the pit. It should drain the water by itself. If it doesn’t, make sure the pump is plugged in and the breaker is switched on. If it’s still not working:
Make sure the motor is running normally.
Check the pipe for evidence of freezing or clogging.
Clean the discharge line.
Call a plumber if all else fails.[13]
Disconnect watering implements from your outdoor spigot. This includes the hose and the sprinkler. Disconnect everything in the winter or before the temperature in your area drops below freezing. The water inside the hose can freeze and back up into the spigot until it reaches your pipes. Any pipe that freezes can burst.
You can also replace your spigot with one that prevents the water inside the house from reaching the cold exterior. These frost-free spigots are level with the connecting pipe.[14]
Treat the exterior spigot. You can protect it from causing problems in one of three ways:
Wrap it in foam rubber insulation.
Open the spigot to drain any excess water from the connecting pipes.
Replace it with a spigot that shuts off the supply of water to pipes in the walls.[15]
Call a plumber. If you live in an especially cold climate, ask a plumber to inspect your work to make sure you left no loose ends. Have them also drain the water heater. For an added bit of precaution, you could also ask them to empty water left in drains and traps and replace it with non-toxic antifreeze.[16]
Method Three of Three:
Thawing Frozen Pipes
Locate the frozen pipe. Turn on each faucet one by one. If none of your faucets works, the frozen pipe is close to or right at the main water supply, usually located on the street side of your basement or in an uninsulated crawl space. Run your hands every few feet along the pipe to find a section that feels very cold. This is the frozen section.[17]
If water flows from some faucets but not others, the problem might be in a pipe connected to a specific faucet or a pipe on one side of the house. Check pipes in uninsulated walls first.
Keep all frozen taps open until water starts to flow. Then, lower the water to a trickle.[18]
Check the pipe in the area of the freeze. Some plastic or copper pipes will split. This will flood the area when thawed. If the pipe looks burst or has a slit in it, call a plumber immediately. Turn off the water supply, as well as the water heater.[19] If there are no splits, begin the thawing process.
Heat the area around the frozen part. Use an electric space heater, a hair dryer, or a heat lamp in a reflector to prevent a fire. Exercise caution when placing heat-generating devices. Never leave these devices unattended for any amount of time when in use. If you have a problem, call the plumber.
Space heaters, heat lamps, and reflective lamps can generate high temperatures, which might cause flammable materials to combust. If you need to place a heat source under the kitchen sink, remove all chemicals first.[20]
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Community Q&A
Do I have to let the hot and cold water trickle in freezing temperatures? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
If your water pipes are insulated as shown in the article, you do not need to let them drip, but if they are exposed to freezing temperatures, yes, let both the hot and cold drip.
Will the spigot freeze if you have that water turned off? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
If you turn off the water, you must then drain the water spicket by turning to the left to eliminate any water that may be holding in the line and after draining, you can close it 95% back to the right. After the freezing temps stop, and your turn the water back on, you will see the drip and tighten to close the spicket.
Do all indoor faucets need to be on drip, or just one? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
The short answer is yes. You may be able to open the last faucet in the run, but the pipes from the main run up to each faucet may still freeze.
Will keeping the water running stop pipes from freezing? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
Yes, but running water too slow will still cause it to freeze. It’s best is to install heat tape on outside exposed areas.
Is setting the heating and hot water to come two hours in the morning and two hours at night enough to prevent frozen pipes? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
No. If the environment around your pipes is at or below freezing, the pipes will begin to freeze as soon as you stop setting your heat and hot water. Just because you set your heat two hours in the morning does not mean it can’t freeze in the third hour. As a result, the temperature around your pipe will quickly fall to the surrounding temperature, even if you run water for a few hours in the morning/night.
Is it possible for pipes to freeze if they are buried? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
Yes, but it depends on the depth of the water line and the depth of the frost line (how deep the ground freezes in your climate). For example: If your frost line is at 12 inches and your waterline is only a few inches under the ground, it may freeze.
What will happen if I shut the off the water and turn off the heat?
Answered by DonazP
Because water is still left inside the water piping, freezing can still happen.
Is there a way to circulate your water in your water lines instead of letting it run away? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
You can use a hot water loop, but you still have to keep your pipes insulated. More info here:

Does turning on outside spigot help the pipes to not freeze? Answered by wikiHow Contributor
Yes. It keeps warmer water flowing through the plumbing system, thus not giving the water enough time to freeze in the pipes.
Our cabin will be empty all winter with no one there. I will drain the house as well as possible, but I’m worried about where the line from the well into the cabin is exposed. Any ideas?
Answered by IceFishingChampion
If you place a ball valve before the well pump, close it, and inject air into the system, it should blow out any water left in the line.
Consider hiring a licensed plumber if you have any reservations about following the steps in this article.
If the plumber won’t guarantee their work, seek professionals who will. Refuse to pay if the work is not performed correctly.
Never use any kind of open flame. It may burst your pipes.
Things You’ll Need
Pipe insulation
Heat tape
Reflector heat lamp
Hand-held hair dryer
Thermal convection-powered hot water recirculation valve
Mini hacksaw
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About This Article
Co-authors: 22
Updated: February 5, 2018
Views: 782,740
Article Rating: 98% – 82 votes
Categories: Featured Articles | Piping | Winterization
Sources and Attribution
Reader Success Stories
Jan 3

“I had not thought of using a space heater before to help thaw, if needed.”
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