How To Keep Your Pipes From Freezing In Winter Weather

Posted on: 18 January 2017


If you live in an older home with a room that is either poorly heated or completely unheated, such as an outer room of a basement, there's a good chance that you have exposed plumbing that is in danger of freezing.

Frozen water expands, and because it has nowhere else to go, it can burst through the sides of a pipe. Only pressurized supply pipes retain water inside when not in use, so a burst pipe can mean severe flooding in your home.

However, there are several ways, both active and passive, that you can keep your supply pipes from freezing when temperatures drop.

The Trickle Effect

You can protect a single supply line from freezing by allowing the water to trickle slowly from a faucet that is fed by the endangered supply pipe. Running water doesn't freeze.

It doesn't need to trickle around the clock, only when the unheated room is in danger of falling below 32 degrees, so water waste will be minimal.

Insulating the vulnerable pipes

There are several options from which to choose if you decide to insulate the pipes. Passive choices include wrapping materials such as foam or fiberglass. Both of these materials help the pipes to retain heat while keeping the cold from reaching them.

Fiberglass wrap is sold in rolls that are wrapped around the pies and sealed with tape, while foam pipe wrap can be bought in pipe shaped sections with slits in one side. You simply open the slits and wrap the foam around the pipe.

When temperatures fall below a certain point during an extreme cold spell, passive options are no longer adequate in keeping the pipes from freezing. It is then time for a more active approach. You need to either heat the room or heat the pipes themselves.

Pipe heat cables

These are powered metallic cables that are wrapped around vulnerable pipes and provide heat to the pipes when their heating element is activated. They must be plugged into a nearby outlet, but there is no need to unplug them after the danger of freezing has passed, because most models of these heating cables have a built-in thermostat.

When the room temperature approaches the freezing point, the thermostat activates the heating element, and when the room temperature rises, the heating element shuts off.

Heating pipe cables must be covered with fiberglass wrap to retain enough heat to be effective in extremely cold weather.

Plug in freeze protection thermostats

If you would rather just heat the entire room when the danger of freezing is present, you can opt for a plug in thermostat and a portable heater. These freeze protection thermostats are built into a plug in outlet adapter.

You just need to plug the adapter into a regular outlet, then plug your heater into the adapter. When the temperature approaches the freezing point, the adapter opens the circuit, powering the portable heater.

When the room temperature rises sufficiently, the circuit is closed again and the heater shuts off. You don't need to worry about being away from home when temperatures drop, but heating an entire room is more expensive than just heating pipes.

It's the age old dilemma of convenience vs. price, and the choice is yours, but any option is better than the expense and inconvenience of frozen pipes. Talk to a plumber at a place like Knights Plumbing & Drain for more information and suggestions.