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  • Writer's pictureBob Condon

Burst Pipes

December was a pretty mild month, but winter has finally arrived with temperatures dropping below freezing, especially overnight. With the freezing temperatures comes the risk of pipes freezing and bursting, which is not only inconvenient, but can also lead to a costly repair, severe water damage, mold, and an astronomical water bill. What can you do to protect yourself? Well, as it turns out, you can do a lot.

The first thing to do is inspect your home. As you do this there are several things to keep in mind. As you check your pipes, note that not all areas of your home are the same. Some areas present a higher risk than others.

Where are the vulnerable parts of your house?

Every home and area are different, and you have to take your unique location into account. For example, generally speaking, in our area, northern facing walls are colder since the sun is hitting southern facing parts of your home. But, if you live on the south shore on the water, a sea breeze bringing the cold air from the ocean can cause issues on the southern facing areas of your house.

Other area that are colder and have a higher risk of burst pipes include:

  • Attics and rooms directly below the roof such as bedrooms and bathrooms with vaulted ceilings.

  • Sides of your home exposed to wind. In New York, the windiest month is February with an average wind speed of 10.2 miles per hour coming from the north and the west bringing the arctic air down from Canada.

  • Under crawl spaces.

  • Parts of the home that do not get direct sunlight, such as, again, the north side of the house, parts of the house blocked by trees or adjacent buildings.

  • Areas that have less protection, such as openings for garden hoses or sprinkler systems.

  • Garages or other unheated spaces.

How You Can Protect Your Pipes?

Add insultation. There are times when insulating an entire wall is not practical or necessary. You may want to just add insultation around the pipes or, at the very least, add insulation to pipes that are more vulnerable. Exposed pipes in colder areas of home, as listed above, should absolutely be insulated.

Install programmable thermostats. Most people tend to drop the thermostats down at night to save on heating oil or gas costs, however, if you go too low overnight, you are significantly increasing your risk of an overnight disaster and a more expensive overnight emergency call. You should never set your thermostat lower than 55 degrees.

Educate everyone who lives in your home, or tenants if you have a rental property.

When it comes to taking care of home, it is usually one person who is responsible for everything. However, if that person is not home, other need to know what to look for to avoid frozen pipes. If you have a rental, your tenants will know you are responsible for repairs, however, unless, you and your tenants live in the same building, you are not at the rental property every day, so they need to know what to look for and let you know of any issues before a problem occurs.

What to look for?

How can you tell if a pipe is about to burst? You have to observe and listen to the things your house is trying to tell you.

  • If you have had a burst pipe before, that area is known to be vulnerable, so keep a close eye on things in that area.

  • Moisture or frost on a pipe during cold periods.

  • Appliances that use water, such as a washing machine or dishwasher drain slower than usual during cold periods.

  • Getting only a trickle of water or no hot water from the tap.

  • A pipe feels cold in comparison to other pipes or even a different part of the same pipe.

In many cases, it is easy to add insulation to pipes, especially exposed pipe. If the pipes you are concerned about are under appliances, in difficult to reach places or out of reach, you many require the help of a professional to get your pipes properly insulated. Also, pipes that are close to water heaters or boilers should be insulated by a professional to make sure the job is done safely. Insulation can be flammable, so putting insulation near heaters and boilers can pose a fire hazard. Gas water heaters can also be a source of fatal carbon monoxide. If you do anything around a gas water heater and accidently knock a pipe even slightly out of place, it could lead to a serious and fatal situation. Call a professional to have the job done correctly.

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