Once the weather turns crisp, before homeowners cozy up to their fireplaces or under their goose-down duvets, there’s something critical they need to tend to first outside: their home’s pipes. Learning how to keep pipes from freezing is one of those essential homeowner skills you definitely don’t want to overlook.
Why? Because when water freezes, it expands, which can cause pipes to burst—flooding your basement, ruining your drywall, and costing thousands of dollars in repairs. In fact, the Hartford Insurance Co. reports that the average claim for damage from a frozen pipe is a whopping $18,000, according to its analysis of five years of winter claims data.
Yep, you read that right, $18,000. On average.
Bottom line? If you’re smart (and we know you are), you’ll take care of this task long before the temperature drops, just in case. Here are the steps to take to keep pipes from freezing.
Step 1: How to drain your pipes
First things first: Get the water in your pipes out! To do that, you’ll want to tackle all the water lines leading to your garden hose, sprinkler, and pool. After you shut off the water valves, open the spigots to let any remaining water drip out, says Bud Summers at the property-damage repair company Puroclean.com.
Step 2: Insulate exposed piping
“Ideally, your water pipes should be kept in heated spaces only,” says Summers. Although this is the best-case scenario, everyone’s home layout is different. Generally, you’ll want to watch out for any pipes in unheated or uninsulated areas, like your attic, basement, or crawl space. That said, in warmer climates, a basement may stay well above freezing year round, so gauge the temperature—and act accordingly. Any piping located in areas that could go below freezing should be “insulated with insulation sleeves or wrapping,” says Summers, who adds that you can buy these wrappers at any local hardware store.
Step 3: Open cabinet doors
Once you reach that time of year when freezing temperatures are the norm, even your indoor pipes may need some extra protection. And one easy way to do that is to open any bathroom or kitchen cabinet doors that house plumbing. No, it’s not pretty leaving the space beneath your sink exposed, but the improved airflow keeps your pipes toastier than if they were shut.
Step 4: Let it drip, drip, drip
Another pipe-saving tip: When temperatures drop to below freezing, let your faucets drip. Yes, this advice opposes almost everything else you know about water conservation, but it can save you big bucks on fixing that busted pipe. The Red Cross concurs that running water through the pipe—even at a trickle—helps prevent pipes from freezing. “So many homeowners fail to take this simple precaution,” Summers says. “Letting cold water drip from the faucet helps relieve any pressure building from ice inside a pipe.”
Step 5: Shut off the water completely
During holiday travels or winter vacations, you’ll want to take the extra measure to turn off your home’s water completely. Unused water sitting in pipes is likely to freeze, meaning that you could come home to a busted pipe and total mess. Why take the risk? In most homes, the water shut-off valve is located near where the water pipes make their way into your home—often the kitchen, basement or downstairs bathroom (consult your property records if you’re not sure).