Winter weather is often a roller-coaster ride in Texas – it can be warm and muggy one day and freezing the next, a pattern that can be repeated several times throughout the season. With that in mind, it’s important that you not be caught off-guard. Protecting water pipes that are vulnerable to those bone-chilling cold snaps can save you from expensive repair bills.
The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety notes that burst pipes can cost a homeowner $5,000 or more to repair. Because southern climates are warmer, a building's pipes may be located in unprotected areas without insulation. When deep freezes occur once or twice in a winter season, homeowners may be unaware of the dangers associated with these unprotected areas.
For most people, the biggest concern will be protecting those outdoor pipes that do not enjoy the warmth of the home’s heating system.
Pipes in attics, crawl spaces, and outside walls are all vulnerable to freezing, especially if there are cracks or openings that allow cold, outside air to flow across the pipes,” according to the IIBHS. “The size of pipes and their composition (copper or PVC) have some bearing on how fast ice forms, but they are relatively minor factors in pipe bursting compared with the absence of heat, pipe insulation, and exposure to a flow of subfreezing air.”
The general consensus of experts is to beware of the possible freezing of pipes when temperatures plummet to 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Thankfully, those conditions are rare in Texas, but definitely not unheard of – in recent years, there have been days when temperatures plunged into the teens and stayed below freezing for multiple days.
Frozen pipes can occur even when temperatures stay above 20 degrees; the IIBHS notes: “Pipes exposed to cold air – especially flowing air, as on a windy day – because of cracks in an outside wall of a lack of insulation are vulnerable to freezing above the (20-degree) threshold. However, the 20 degrees ‘temperature alert threshold’ should address the majority of potential burst-pipe incidents in southern states.”
The American Red Cross, best known for its disaster relief operations, has tips of preventing a burst pipe disaster.
- Drain water from your swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following the manufacturer’s or installer’s directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is environmentally harmful and is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.
- Remove, drain and store hoses used outdoors.
- Add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas.
- Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated.
- Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a “pipe sleeve” or “heat tape,” “heat cable” or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes. Just a quarter-inch of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.
Other tips to help protect your pipes, according to the Red Cross, include:
- Keeping garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in your garage.
- Opening kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors allows warmer air to circulate around the plumbing.
- When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.
- Keeping the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. This might result in a higher heating bill but can prevent a much more costly repair job.