PREVENTING & TREATING FROZEN PIPES
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Question: What can be done to protect against frozen pipes?
Reply: Frozen pipes are common occurrence during sub-zero weather up north. They tend to plaque Southerners from time to time as well. Piping generally gets placed well inside the bowels of buildings in the north. Designers of southern buildings generally don't pay much attention to the location of water piping, and on those rare occasions when temperatures drop a little below freezing, occupants pay the price.
Pipes that have frozen in the past are obvious candidates for special attention. Insulation is an obvious benefit, but won't by itself prevent pipes from freezing if they are too exposed to the elements.
It's also important to keep a heat source close by. In the case of bathroom pipes enclosed in vanities or cabinets, leave the doors open during frigid weather so the heat from the room can penetrate the enclosures. Professional contractors sell pipe wrappings imbedded with electrical coils to provide an outside source of heat. This is okay, but if you forget to plug in the device with the approach of a cold front, or if there's an electrical power interruption - as often occurs during severe weather - the product won't work.
If a pipe does freeze, try defrosting it with an electrical hair dryer. For safety, be sure the dryer is grounded and never hold the pipe while operating an electrical appliance.
To prevent the pipe from bursting, turn off the water supply to that line. Be careful, however. If you use a boiler for heating, it must have continual water supply to operate. Don't turn off the main household supply, just the valve leading to the frozen line. If you're unsure how to do this call a plumbing contractor.
Also remember that running water does not freeze very readily. During severe cold weather you may want to keep a stream of water trickling out of faucets or spouts attached to vulnerable pipes. This wastes water, but may be preferable to a burst pipe.
Persons who go south for the winter or leave on extended vacations ought to drain their plumbing system to prevent frozen pipes. Here's what to do:
1.) Turn off the water supply at the main shutoff valve. In most buildings this is found on the side of the building nearest the street.
2.) Shut off the furnace or boiler and the current or gas to the water heater.
3.) Flush all toilets and every faucet in the home, including outdoor faucets. Be sure to remove garden hoses, because faucets cannot drain properly with a hose in place.
4.) Drain the water heater.
5.) With a boiler open, open all the radiator valves and remove the air-escape valve from radiators on the highest floor of the house. Then drain the boiler. To do a thorough job, use an air compressor to blow water from the system. After the system is empty, open the drain valve on the main supply line.
6.) If your water supply is from a well, switch off the pump and drain it, along with the above ground pump lines and the tank.
7.) Empty the toilets bowls by siphoning or bailing and sponging. Pour a mixture of antifreeze and water into all toilet bowls and traps of all sinks, showers and bathtubs.
DO NOT DRAIN THESE TRAPS - the water keeps sewer gases out of the building.
If a pipe does burst, there's not much you can do except mop up the area and get the pipe repaired. An ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of this cure!