Preventing Frozen Pipes

Be Winter Ready

Last winter, communities in both the Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula experienced frozen water and sewer lines due to extremely cold temperatures. The Michigan Committee for Severe Weather Awareness estimates that a quarter-million homes are damaged each winter due to frozen water pipes. An eighth-inch crack in a pipe can be enough to leak up to 250 gallons of water a day, destroying floors, furniture and personal property. Both plastic (PVC) and copper pipes can burst.

Before winter hits:

  • Insulate pipes in crawl spaces and attics—these are the ones most susceptible to freezing. The more insulation, the better the pipes are protected.
  • Heat tape or thermostatically-controlled heat cables can be used to wrap pipes. Use only products approved by an independent testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories, and only for the use intended (exterior or interior). Closely follow all manufacturer’s installation and operating instructions.
  • Seal leaks that allow cold air inside, especially near pipes. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents, and pipes. Use caulk or insulation to keep cold air out and the heat in. A tiny opening can let enough cold air inside to cause a pipe to freeze with a severe enough wind chill.
  • Disconnect garden hoses and, if practical, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. This reduces the chance of freezing in the short span of the pipe just inside the house.

If you are away:

  • Set the thermostat no lower than 55 degrees to prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Ask a friend or neighbor to check your house daily to make sure it’s warm enough to prevent freezing.
  • Shut off and drain the water system. Be aware that if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it will be deactivated when you shut off the water.

If your pipes freeze:

  • DON’T TAKE CHANCES. If you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out call a plumber. If you detect your water pipes have frozen, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve in the house.
  • NEVER try to thaw a pipe with a torch or open flame. You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe with the warm air from a hair dryer. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe.
  • DO NOT use electrical appliances in areas of standing water. Electrocution is possible.