When the weather outside is frightful, some parts of your house can get a little too cold. Even when you have your heat cranked up inside, the pipes that move water around your home may be exposed to the freezing temperatures outside. That may result in frozen pipes, which in turn can lead to damage and other issues. Fortunately, this is fairly easy to avoid. 

What Causes Frozen Pipes?

When we talk about frozen pipes, we’re really referring to the water inside the pipe freezing. When water freezes into ice, it expands, and this can cause pipes to burst. When the temperature goes back up and that water melts, that burst pipe may end up draining water into your home. 

Frozen pipes are not terribly common because, in a properly insulated home, outdoor temperatures generally have to get well below freezing for this issue to present itself. According to the Building Research Council at the University of Illinois, frozen pipes are typically a concern in the range of 20° Fahrenheit or below.

It’s important to note that this isn’t an issue that affects cold regions alone. In fact, areas that rarely see sub-20° temperatures may be particularly vulnerable to this issue because houses may not be built with pipe insulation designed to prevent freezing. So even if you live in a warmer area, like Arizona, this advice applies to you, too.

Frozen Pipes Warning Signs

So how do you know if your pipes have frozen? This is an issue you want to diagnose as soon as possible; if you can get the problem fixed (or at least shut off your main water supply) before the ice melts, you can prevent further damage to your property. When temperatures are 20° Fahrenheit or below, look out for these warning signs:

  • Changes in water flow: Is your faucet running much slower than normal? Only getting a trickle from your shower head? That could be a sign of plumbing blockages caused by ice in the pipes.

  • Visible frost on pipes in unheated areas: It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the unheated areas of your home, like your attic, garage or basement. Even the uninsulated areas under sinks can be at risk, especially if they’re up against an exterior wall. If you can see frost on your pipes in these spaces, that means they’re likely cold enough for ice to form inside.

  • Obvious leaks or water spots on walls and ceilings: If it isn’t raining outside and you have a puddle forming on your living room floor from drips in the ceiling, chances are that there is a plumbing problem. That’s true when it’s extra cold outside, too. If you see any obvious signs of leakage from your water pipes during extreme cold, that’s a pretty reliable warning sign that your pipes have frozen and burst.

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

It’s best to avoid waiting until these symptoms present themselves. Proper preparation can ensure you enjoy your winter season. Here’s what to do to avoid frozen pipes:

  • Have insulation inspected and improved: If sub-20° temperatures are a fairly regular occurrence where you live, hire a trusted contractor to install extra insulation in unheated areas where your pipes run. This investment will pay off in the long run as you’ll spend much less to insulate properly than you would to fix water damage and burst pipes.

  • Keep your house warm: Keep your heat set at 55° or higher when extreme cold is in the forecast. Even if you’re going to be out of town or asleep, keeping your home’s interior warm will help prevent frozen pipes.

  • Avoid exposure to cold air: You can help protect your pipes by avoiding exposure to cold air. This means keeping windows and garage doors closed in areas where there are a lot of pipes. It can also mean opening cabinet doors to allow heated air to warm pipes in spaces under sinks.

Keep water moving through pipes: If you’ve ever seen a rushing river surrounded by ice and snow, you know that it’s hard to freeze water that’s on the move. Letting water drip from your faucets is ordinarily considered wasteful, but when it’s 20° or below outside, it’s a smart move. Don’t leave faucets on full blast; a light trickle or strong drip will do the trick.

Upgrading Your Home for Extreme Winter Weather

If you’re feeling like your home could use a winter-prep makeover, our mortgage specialists may be able to help. We offer a range of lending products, including HELOCs, that can allow you to leverage your home’s equity to finance renovations. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you protect your biggest investment!