Don't Let Your Outdoor Pipes Freeze During the Cold Winter Months

Icicles hanging from a brown pipe

A frozen pipe poses a serious cold weather risk to Indianapolis area homeowners – when a pipe is frozen, it may burst, leading to serious water damage in the house. Outdoor pipes and exposed pipes on exterior walls are especially vulnerable to freezing in the cold. Exterior faucets should be winterized each fall, to help avoid pipes freezing.

Williams Comfort Air guides you through the process of winterizing exterior wall faucets and ways to prevent pipes from freezing this season. In case you do suffer from frozen pipes this winter, we also share instructions for thawing frozen pipe sections after a freeze to help protect your home from damage.

When to Worry About Frozen Pipes

Water freezes when its temperature reaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit, so anytime outdoor temperatures dip to freezing or below, there is a possibility of frozen water lines. However, just one day of freezing temperatures probably won’t cause pipes freezing – prolonged periods of cold weather are a greater risk.

Some pipes in your home are more vulnerable to freezing outdoor temperatures than others – exposed pipes such as a faucet that is installed on an exterior wall as well as water supply lines that run within the home’s exterior walls are at the highest risk because they are more exposed to cold outdoor temperatures than other water pipe sections. Pipes that are in more centrally located areas receive the benefit of the home’s heat to prevent a frozen section of pipe, while more outward-sitting lines are farther away from a heat source.

How to Avoid an Outdoor Frozen Pipe

The outdoor faucet where you attach a garden hose is vulnerable to freezing during the cold if it is not properly winterized. Before cold weather hits, make sure to take these steps that protect your outdoor water pipes and faucets from a freeze.

For regular hose bibs:

  1. Disconnect attached hoses, drain them, roll them up, and store them in a sheltered area of the house or shed for the winter. Doing so prevents damage to the hose, should water freeze inside it. Hoses that are left outside and filled with water for the winter may burst, as water expands when frozen, stretching the pipe walls to the point of breaking or cracking. Leaving a hose attached can also increase the likelihood of damage to the faucet should freezing occur.
  2. Find the shut off valve on the water supply line that feeds water to the outdoor faucet and close it to stop waterflow to the hose bib. The shut off valve is typically located a few feet inside crawl spaces or basements behind the wall where the faucet sits outside – for homes on slab foundations, the shutoff is likely inside near that exterior wall, or there could be a secondary shut off valve near the water meter for irrigation.
  3. If your outdoor faucets are older, there is likely a drainage port on the water line near the shutoff. Place a bucket below and open the port, allowing all water in the line to drain out.
  4. If there is no indoor drainage port on the supply line, open the faucet outside and allow water remaining in the line to drain out. Leave the faucet open over the winter, which alleviates water pressure should the line freeze.

For frost free hose bibs:

  1. Disconnect the hose, drain it, and store it.
  2. Close the shut off valve on the pipe that supplies the hose bib. Open the hose bib to allow remaining water to drain out.

Frost free hose bibs are typically installed in newer homes. These outdoor faucets are less likely to experience a frozen pipe because the shutoff sits farther into the house, where it is exposed to warmer temperatures. The supply line slopes downward from the valve to the faucet, so water comes out the faucet should freezing and thawing occur. If your home does not have frost free bibs, consider upgrading before winter to help safeguard these outdoor pipes from freezing – a plumber can easily and affordably perform this upgrade for you.

To further prevent pipes from freezing, insulate hose bib faucets and their supply pipes. Styrofoam hose bib covers can be purchased at most hardware stores and installed over the exterior fixture, shielding it from the cold. Foam insulation sleeves can also be applied around the pipe to provide enhanced protection from the cold.

Any exposed pipes that run outside the home or through unheated areas of the house, like attics, basements, or crawl spaces, should also be insulated when preventing frozen pipes. Pipes that sit along exterior walls can freeze before pipes that are located towards the interior of the home and need extra precautions when extreme outdoor temperatures hit. Open cabinet doors below sinks that sit along these walls, which allows warm air from the home to circulate in these areas and keep pipes warm. Also, open faucets to these fixtures and allow water to steadily trickle that keeps water moving – when water sits in pipes, it is more likely to freeze.

What Happens if Outside Pipes Freeze?

When you experience frozen outdoor pipes, the risk of damage due to leaking water is high. Frozen water expands inside pipes pushes against the pipe walls, stressing and straining the material which often leads to a crack or burst pipe. If a section of pipe is damaged by a freeze, a major water leak may result once the frozen water thaws. Frozen pipes can thaw on their own and go undetected – when pipes that run inside walls or below the home sustain damage, leaks can go unnoticed for considerable time, causing severe water damage. This is an incredibly common issue which accounts for about 20 percent of all property damage claims made to homeowners insurance companies, with the average claim resulting in over $10,000 in damages.

What to Do with Frozen Pipes

If your outdoor hose bib freezes, take these steps to thaw the pipe and prevent frozen pipes damage as quickly as possible:

  1. Make sure to open the faucet outside.
  2. Go inside the basement or crawl space to where the pipe penetrates the exterior wall. Wrap the base of the hose bib with rags or towels.
  3. Apply heat by pouring boiling water onto the cloth and add more hot water as needed. A hair dryer can also be used to heat the frozen area.
  4. Watch the outdoor faucet for a trickle of water, which indicates thawing.
  5. Winterize the hose bib to prevent future freezes.

If the water supply pipe to the hose bib freezes, do the following:

  1. Make sure the outdoor faucet is open.
  2. Apply heat using a hair dryer, heating pad, or heat tape applied around the pipe, or set up a space heater to heat the frozen area. Never use a propane heater, charcoal stove, or open flame.
  3. Once water stops trickling out of the faucet, close the shut off valve and winterize the water pipe and hose bib.

If a pipe on an exterior wall freezes, this is how to address the frozen area:

  1. First you need to try to determine the location of the frozen pipe. Open taps throughout the home – if the only fixture affected sits along an exterior wall, you’ll know that pipe is frozen rather than the main water line that supplies all fixtures throughout the home.
  2. Cut a hole in the wall to access the pipe. Apply heat and leave the pipe exposed so it becomes surrounded by warm air.
  3. Leave the faucet open to allow water to drip.
  4. Once you have full water pressure from the faucet, the thawing process is complete.
  5. Add insulation to protect the pipe in the future, then patch the wall.

Professional Help for Frozen Pipes

If you do not feel up to thawing frozen pipes on your own, leave it to your trusted plumbers at Williams Comfort Air. We thaw outdoor frozen pipes safely, inspect for damage, replace burst pipes, and repair leaks caused by freezing. Contact us today to schedule service – emergency repair help is available when you experience plumbing issues after-hours.

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