How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing | The Light Lab

How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing

Thinking about some Do-It-Yourself (DIY) home improvement projects for your Texas home, but you’re not really sure about what to do or where to start? You’ve come to the right place! Welcome to the DIY Energy Efficiency Tips series from First Choice Power. We’ll show you how to improve the energy efficiency of your home, including hints that make the jobs easier.

How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing

Last winter’s Polar Vortex visit froze pipes throughout the Lone Star State, including Houston and Dallas. Once again this year, there is a possibility for the same thing to happen. NOAA’s outlook for December 26 through January 1, 2018 predicts the coming of cold air. “Below normal temperatures are likely for a large area of the ConUS, under a predicted amplified trough and an influx of arctic air.” Adding to this, one Polar Vortex expert has warned, “If a significant weakening of the PV takes place between now and mid-January then the winter is likely to be characterized by widespread cold across the Northern Hemisphere.”

Not that Texas will be frozen into a block of ice, but there is the possibility that we might see some downright chilly nights in January with some cold enough to freeze water pipes. While that doesn’t sound really bad, remember that when water freezes into ice, it expands. When ice forms in a pipe, it travels straight up the pipe until it runs into a place where the pipe space narrows, like a bend or a valve. These are the places where ice expansion commonly cracks or bursts pipes. All kinds of pipes are vulnerable to freezing: galvanized, plastic and copper.

So, while the weather’s still nice, it’s a good idea to insulate your home’s water pipes. Sure, it’s true that just letting water trickle through the faucet is an easy way to prevent pipes from freezing BUT it’s not fool-proof and it does add to your water bill. On the other hand, insulating your pipes isn’t very expensive and if you do it right, you never have to do it again.

How to Insulate Pipes

How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing | The Light Lab

Insulating your pipes is both easy and inexpensive. To begin with, foam pipe insulation is available in a variety of diameters (3/4” and 1/2” are most common) and lengths. Some also come with built-in self adhesive strip. Just cut each section to length and wrap it around the pipe.

1) Find where your water supply line emerges from the ground and dig down around it for about 3-6 inches.

2) Wrap a section of foam pipe insulation around the pipe. Make sure the insulation completely seals around the pipe and that there are no gaps.

3) Keep adding sections until the pipe enters the wall of our house. If the pipe enters a crawlspace, go into the crawlspace and add more sections of insulation until the pipe actually enters the house. This is especially important for homes with little insulation where water lines pass through areas with cold spots. Because the water will be the temperature of the ground, you’ll want to make certain the water can continue carrying as much of that heat with it once the pipe is above ground.

4) If you have an outside spigot or hosebib attached to the side of your house, you’ll want to put an insulating cover over it to prevent it from freezing. If you’re rushed and freezing weather is already barreling down on your town, you can wrap the spigot in newspaper and put a plastic coffee can over it. Meanwhile, a more permanent solution is to replace a regular spigot with a freeze-proof faucet and though it’s definitely more expensive than a foam cover, you only need to install it once.

5) If your home’s water heater is located in your attic, then this is another place you want to insulate your water pipes. While attics can be ovens in the summer, wintertime cold snaps can turn them in freezers. Insulating exposed plumbing here will not only save you the expensive headache of frozen pipes but might also help reduce your energy usage the during the rest of the year by reducing your wait-time for hot water.

How to Protect Your Sprinkler System From a Freeze

How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing | The Light Lab

Many Texas homes have sprinkler systems attached to their outside water supply lines. Sprinkler systems consist of a pressure vacuum breaker (PVB) valve that uses a rubber diaphragm. If the PVB gets filled with ice, the ice can damage the diaphragm so that when it warms up, the diaphragm will no longer seal and the PVB will spray water all over. Consequently, PVB valves can be expensive to repair or replace. However, you can easily protect them with insulation and draining:

1) Turn off the backflow valve first (if your system has one).

2) Turn off the water supply to the PVB valve.

3) Drain water from valve by opening the siphon or bleeder valves on the side of the valve assembly. This will prevent a freeze up.

4) Insulate the entire valve assembly by wrapping it in a towel or blanket. That way, any water left in the valve will be less likely to freeze. You can also cover this with a plastic bag to keep it dry and protect it further from wind-blown dirt.

Even in the Lone Star State, freezing winter conditions can cause damage to your home’s pipes. Take these precautions to ensure your pipes and sprinkler system do not freeze when the temperatures do dip down in Texas!

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Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.