3 tips for preventing burst pipes

Burst pipes are a common worry for cold-climate homeowners. They can lead to large plumbing bills and ruin furniture and belongings. Here are three tips for preventing burst pipes.

3 tips for preventing burst pipes

1. Take preventative measures

  • Consider having a plumber relocate exposed pipes.
  • Insulate and seal your basement or crawl space.
  • Before the first cold spell, drain water-sprinkler supply lines. Don't use antifreeze in these pipes unless instructed to do so by the manufacturer. Antifreeze is harmful to humans, pets, wildlife and landscaping.
  • Disconnect hoses from outdoor faucets, drain them and store them indoors. Turn off the valves that control the water supply to these faucets, and open the faucets a bit to let any stored water drain.
  • If water pipes run through the garage, keep the garage doors closed in cold weather.
  • Insulate pipes that run through unheated spaces, including those that carry hot water. These pipes can still freeze when the water heater is not operating.
  • If you plan to be away from home for an extended period during cold weather, leave the heat on, setting the thermostat to 12°C.
  • When the weather is very cold, let water drip from faucets served by exposed pipes because moving water is less likely to freeze. Open doors to cabinets and closets that house pipes and sinks to allow heat in.

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2. Insulate your pipes

  • A variety of insulating materials is available at hardware and home supply stores. You can buy lengths of pre-shaped pipe insulation, cut them to length with a knife and secure them around pipes with clamps or tape.
  • You can also wrap pipes with aluminum insulating tape; with each wrap, overlap the tape by half an inch and secure the entire job at the pipe ends with duct tape.
  • If an electrical outlet is nearby, you can use electrified heat tape or heat cable to warm pipes; some brands even have thermostats that turn the device on and off as needed.
  • When wrapping heat tape around a pipe, leave a one centimetre gap between the turns. In a pinch, you could wrap the pipes with thick layers of newspaper.

3. Keep out the cold

  • Clean gutters and downspouts in late fall — after the last leaves have fallen — to prevent ice blockage and help runoff.
  • Check areas that let cold air in, such as basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages and spaces under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Caulk any openings or add insulation.
  • Make sure storm windows shut tightly. Plug window drafts with rope caulk, wide tape or (as a stopgap) folded newspapers.
  • Add insulation to the attic and take other measures to prevent ice dams.
  • If you have a forced-air heating system, vacuum the duct openings and get a supply of air filters.
  • Remove room air conditioners. Another alternative is to insulate each unit by removing the front panel and placing plastic sheeting inside, then replacing the panel and covering the unit.
  • Trim any tree branches that may damage the house or the outside wiring in a storm.
  • Keep a good supply of fuel on hand.

Burst pipes can make a wonderful winter anything but. By taking a few precautions to keep your pipes warm, you won't have to worry about cleaning up the mess in the cold.

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