How to Keep Pipes from Freezing

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated October 11, 2022
Close-up of water pipes under a sink
Photo: Melissa Ross / Moment / Getty Images

Keep your pipes in tip-top shape all winter long

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As temperatures start to drop in the late fall, there’s an increased risk of significant home damage: frozen pipes. If the water in your pipes freezes, it can cause pipes to burst, leading to potentially massive and costly damage. Luckily, you can prevent frozen pipes with these few precautions.

1. Insulate Pipes

Insulate your pipes before chilly weather sets in. Winterizing your pipes is an essential step in your fall home maintenance process to prevent serious damage during the coldest months of the year.

  • Pipe insulation costs $1 to $4 per linear foot for professional installation.

  • To DIY, expect to spend $1 to $7 per 6 feet of pipe insulation material.

  • Insulate pipes in unheated spaces, particularly attics, basements, and garages.

  • Find the right insulation for your pipes based on the R-value and size. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation. Most pipe insulation is either 0.5 or 0.75 inches in diameter, so check your pipes before ordering.

2. Open Cabinet Doors

A kitchen cabinet slightly open
Photo: yipengge / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

One easy way to help keep pipes from freezing is to let the warm air in your home circulate around the pipes. When you have the heat going, open up cabinet doors in the kitchen and bathrooms. This way, warm air can better reach the pipes in or behind the cabinets.

3. Close Garage Doors

While you want to open cabinet doors, you should close garage doors if water supply lines run through the garage. When it’s freezing outside, that cold air will enter the garage if the door is left open. This will make the temperature in the garage drop even lower, potentially leading to frozen pipes.

4. Keep the Heat On

If you’re going on vacation or to visit family over the holidays, keep the indoor temperature set to at least 55°F to prevent freezing. Many people set the thermostat lower at night to reduce utility bills, but a frozen or burst pipe will cost you far more. Keep the temperature at a minimum of 55°F, even at night.

5. Open Interior Doors

While closing the bedroom or bathroom door after leaving the room might be a habit, try to break it come winter. Leaving interior doors open as much as possible will allow warm air to circulate evenly throughout the home. This can help keep enclosed pipes warm enough to avoid freezing.

6. Let Faucets Drip

Close-up of a faucet dripping water
Photo: Simon Nentwich / EyeEm / Getty Images

When the outside temperature reaches 20°F or lower, you’ll need to let some of the faucets in your home drip to help prevent freezing. Moving water creates energy and friction, which decreases the possibility of frozen pipes.

  • Identify faucets connected to pipes that have frozen previously and those that are exposed or against outdoor walls.

  • Turn on these faucets to a drip or trickle.

  • If water pipes for both hot and cold water are exposed, turn on both to a trickle to prevent either line from freezing.

7. Apply Electrical Heating Tape

Electrical heating tape can help warm pipes before they get too cold. Heating tape is actually a heating cable wrapped in electrical wire that plugs into an outlet to generate heat. There are manual or self-monitoring electrical heating tape options.

  • Manual electrical heating tape: Wrap tape around the pipes before a cold snap, then plug in to activate.

  • Self-monitoring heating tape: This heating tape uses a sensor to determine when pipes are too cold. The sensor will trigger the heating tape to turn on and warm the pipes.

8. Seal Cracks and Openings

Apply weather stripping and caulk where appropriate to repair any cracks and create a tight seal around openings near the pipes, especially if they’re near the exterior of your home. Seal up any windows, spaces around exterior doors, and fix up any other imperfections that may let cold air in. Not only will this help keep your pipes from freezing, it can also keep your home more comfortable.

9. Insulate Crawl Spaces

By insulating your crawl spaces, you prevent warm air from being lost through the cracks. By keeping all that warm air inside of your home, you’ll spend less money trying to keep things warm and may not have to deal with pipes freezing as frequently. These benefits can make crawl space insulation worth it.

You can use polystyrene foam board, spray foam, or fiberglass batts to insulate your crawlspace and this can be a fairly straightforward DIY project.

Signs Your Pipes Are Frozen

You’ll probably figure out a pipe (or more) is frozen in your home after you try to brush your teeth or take a shower on a cold winter’s morning to no avail. To find the specific pipes that are frozen, look for these signs:

  • No or low water flow coming from the fixture attached to the pipe

  • Condensation (frozen or liquid) on the outside of your pipes

  • Gurgling or banging from your pipes

  • Small surface cracks

  • Swollen pipes

  • Odors coming from pipes or water

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

You might be too late to stop the pipes from freezing, but you can help them unthaw to prevent serious damage. However, if you notice a broken pipe, shut off the main water valve and find a local emergency plumber immediately.

Enclosed Pipes

  • Thaw pipes inside your home by turning up the thermostat. Open up doors and cabinets to help warm air circulate.

Exposed Pipes

  • Use a hairdryer to heat 12-inch sections of the pipe until it is no longer frozen.

  • Aim a space heater toward the pipes.

  • Wrap exposed pipes in hot, damp towels. Replace the towel frequently as it cools.

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