How to help prevent pipes from freezing in winter
- Insulate pipes: This applies to all pipes in general, but especially to pipes next to exterior walls and pipes in unheated locations like garages. This can take the form of pipe sleeves or UL-listed heat tape and cables. Even newspaper and duct tape can help in a pinch. Keeping garage doors closed as often as possible for unheated pipes is a good idea, too.
- Open cabinets containing exposed pipes: This lets pipes stay warmer by exposing them to the warmer air in the house. (Be sure to secure anything that could be poisonous to children or pets.)
- Set faucets to drip: You wouldn't necessarily do this all the time, but it's a good idea during cold snaps to help keep water moving within the pipes. (Moving water is less likely to freeze than standing water.)
- Disconnect the hoses: If you have hoses outside, take them off any faucet fixtures. (And drain the hoses, so they don't burst from water trapped inside.)
- Don't lower the heat at night: Another step you may not want to do all the time, but it's advisable during especially cold weather. (It may also be less work for your furnace, which isn't a bad thing.)
When you can't prevent pipes from freezing
Even when you learn how to winterize a house and how to winterize house plumbing, your pipes could freeze regardless of the preventative steps you take. For example, losing power for an extended period during a cold snap or ice storm means no heat to keep the pipes warm.
But frozen pipes don't always crack, leak, or burst. If there's no detectable leak or burst and nothing happens when you turn on a faucet, you may be facing a frozen pipe issue. Leave the faucet turned on and consider calling a plumber for assistance. If a pipe has already cracked, turn off your home's water supply at the main shut-off valve and call a plumber. Turn on the faucets, too — even though there's no water supply, opening the faucets lets the warmer house air into the system to help thaw the pipes over time.
If you want to try thawing a pipe yourself, be extremely careful. Never operate any electrical device or appliance if a pipe in your home has burst and there's standing water nearby or around you because of electrocution danger. Also, don't use anything that has an open flame to thaw your pipes. You'll risk starting a fire and not having any water to put it out. Learn about how home insurance may cover plumbing damage.
Areas to address when winterizing your home
Beyond the pipes, pay attention to the following if you’re considering how to winterize your home.
- Gutters: Ensuring the gutters are clear and in good shape helps prevent ice dams that can damage gutters and roof shingles, and ultimately lead to water damage and colder air in your home.
- Insulation: If you have an attic, scuttle, or crawlspace, insulating the area works hand in hand with the gutters to help prevent ice dams. Also, since hot air rises, having a well-insulated attic floor helps keep your living spaces warmer.
- Windows and doors: Check for drafts and use caulk and weatherstripping to take care of them, which helps keep your home warm.
- Thermostat: Making sure your thermostat is set warmly enough also helps your home during winter weather. Programmable thermostats can help manage heating costs more efficiently.