As the thermostat plunges further toward zero, the nervous Iowa homeowner prays to St. Sebaldus, the Patron Saint of Fighting Cold Weather, that her home’s aging water supply pipes can withstand the latest polar plunge of a relentless Iowa winter.
For many Iowans with older homes, this is a heartbreaking fact of brutal Iowa winters. All it takes is one sub-freezing temperature plunge to ice pipes. The University of Illinois’ Building Research Council reports the “temperature alert threshold” – the temperature at which pipes are vulnerable to freezing – is 20 degrees Fahrenheit, especially for pipes running through uninsulated spaces. When the air temperature around water pipes drops, the heat from water inside the pipes transfers out to the cold air. This can happen anytime the air surrounding the pipes dips below 32 degrees (also known as The Freezing Line).
The U.S. Department of Energy reminds all Americans that this time of year “your pipes are vulnerable.” To learn if your pipes are vulnerable to freezing or bursting, read this helpful article.
The last position anyone wants to find themselves in is battling an Iowa winter without running water. For frozen pipes often lead to an avalanche of disastrous trouble, namely flooding. As Hunker.com’s Shelley Frost puts it, “a burst pipe wreaks havoc on your home.”
“Freezing in a pipe creates a lot of pressure inside the pipe and can cause the pipe to burst and likely lead to serious flooding, especially when there’s no one around to turn off the water,” The Balance Small Business’ Erin Eberlin writes. “The best prevention against frozen pipes to keep them warm enough to stay above the freezing point.”
While calling on the help of St. Sebaldus never hurts, here are Consumer Reports’ proven easy tips on how you can help your home’s pipes beat the winter freeze:
- Keep garage doors closed, especially if there are water supply lines in the garage.
- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. (If you have small children, be sure to remove any harmful cleaners and household chemicals.)
- Let the cold water drip from a faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe—even at a trickle—helps prevent pipes from freezing.
- Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature during day and night. Again, during a cold snap is not the time to set back the thermostat at night to save a few bucks on your heating bill.
- If you plan to be away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.
- For the long term, add insulation to attics, basements, and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in those areas. And to prevent drafts, seal cracks and openings around windows, doors, and at sill plates, where the house rests on its foundation.
After The Freeze Sets In
Unfortunately, not every homeowner is able to save their pipes before they freeze. In the Worst Case Scenario of your pipes freezing, here is American Home Shield’s Guide On How To Fix Frozen Pipes:
- If you suspect a frozen pipe, first check to see how widespread the problem is by turning on and off all the faucets in your home. If the problem exists with more than just one, open all faucets, turn off the main water to the house and call a professional.
- If only one pipe is frozen, leave the others dripping while also turning on the frozen faucet to help get water moving once it thaws. Be sure to locate your nearest water shut-off valve in case you discover a break once the water has begun to flow.
- Now, it’s time for the hair dryer. Before you plug it in, make sure there is absolutely NO water or leaks in the area you intend to use it, as this could be an electrical hazard. Also, be sure to unplug the hair dryer and shut off all water to the house if a leak appears during the thawing process.
- Next, find where the pipe has frozen and use the hair dryer to warm the pipe starting at the faucet and working your way backward until you reach the frozen section.
- Continue warming the pipe until full water pressure returns to the open faucet.
- Once everything has returned to normal, leave the faucet dripping until the freezing temperatures have passed.
- If it turns out that you cannot reach the frozen pipe in order to warm it, shut off the main water supply to the pipe, keep the faucet open and call a plumber. This will help ensure that you don’t later find out you had a burst pipe that leaked into the walls, putting you at risk for mold, rot and other far more expensive problems.
Surviving a long, cold Iowa winter is tough enough on its own. Don’t let frozen pipes put an even greater chill on your home and family.