While temperature extremes in Texas often gravitate toward sweltering heat, there are occasions when winter weather can strike and wreak havoc throughout the state. Arctic cold fronts can quickly plunge temperatures below freezing, and when they stay that way for hours, one of the dangers is to your home’s water pipes.

In the Brazos River basin, the Texas Panhandle and northern portions of the state are more susceptible to the ravages of winter; however, Central Texas is also prone to freezes, and even southern portions of the state have been known to suffer from the rare but devastating ice storm.

While the likelihood of freezing temperatures may seem remote, especially when temperatures can routinely climb into the 70s during winter in the Lone Star State, it’s best to be prepared and not take warm weather for granted. Just like wearing a seatbelt is a precaution against injury in rare accidents, preparing your home for winter chill can prevent plenty of grief if a cold front strikes.

Even the usually balmy Greater Houston area (which includes Brazos basin communities of Sugar Land, Richmond/Rosenberg and Brazoria County) experiences an average of 10 nights per year when temperatures drop below freezing, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

Fortunately, temperatures usually rise above freezing during the day, but if the temperature stays below freezing for several hours, especially in rare instances when temperatures drop into the 20s or lower, pipes are in danger of freezing and possibly bursting.

Northern regions, which experience a far greater frequency of freezing temperatures, often take extra precautions to insulate and protect pipes from cold weather. In the south, where sustained freezing temperatures are a rarity, pipes are more likely to be unprotected, being located in areas outside building insulation, and in areas where it is easier for homeowners to be unaware of problems caused by freezing.

Pipes in attics, crawl spaces and outside walls are all vulnerable to freezing, especially if there are cracks or openings that allow cold air to flow across the pipes, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

For southern states, the key temperature is 20 degrees. When temperatures hit that mark or fall below it (thankfully, a rare occurrence), then pipes are in much greater danger of freezing and bursting.

If freezing weather is imminent, here are a few tips that will protect your home:

  • Leave water taps dripping. Freezing is less likely to occur if water is moving through the pipes, greatly reducing the likelihood of burst pipes.
  • Try to leave some space around the pipes for air to flow by opening cabinet doors under sinks. The movement of air helps to keep pipes warm. Keep your house warm. Even if you aren’t going to be home, it’s still a good idea to keep the heat on to help prevent freezing pipes.
  • Insulate your pipes by covering them with foam or wrapping them with insulation.