Cold weather can cause a variety of plumbing problems—especially if the cold snap occurs suddenly. When weather is likely to drop below freezing or is simply acting erratic, a homeowner should take action to protect their pipes.
1. Frozen External Pipes: Shut Them Off
Find the shut off valve for your external pipes and make sure that water flow is not passing through your external pipes while it is below freezing. This is especially important if your external pipes have a leak, however slight. Additionally, disconnect any hoses or above ground sprinkler systems from your external pipes to ensure that no water is trapped within.
2. Cold Internal Pipes: Insulate Them
Any internal pipes that are not in a heated area of your home can be insulated with the use of a pipe insulating kit. These kits come from any hardware store and are simply wrapped around the pipes to retain heat—otherwise you might find it difficult to maintain the temperature of your hot water. Pipes may pass through unheated areas of your home if they go through exterior walls, basements or attics.
3. Inefficient Water Heaters: Adjust the Temperature
Are you seeing your bills skyrocket? It could be your water heater. If you have an ordinary tanked water heater, you might want to consider turning the temperature down rather than up. This shouldn't affect your comfort—the water will go from the tanked heater to your bathroom faster than it can cool—but it will mean that your water heater doesn't need to work as hard (and expend as much electricity) keeping your water warm and ready.
4. Vacancy Problems: Keep the Heat On!
Whether you're out of town or you're actually taking care of a vacant property, the heat needs to remain on if your pipes are to remain in a good condition. The heat should be between 50 to 55 degrees while you are not at home so that the pipes do not begin to freeze over—remember, the pipes themselves may be colder than your actual home. When pipes freeze, the water inside of them expands, which can cause them to crack and leak.
A plumber can tell you more about how to protect your pipes adequately from the frost. You may also want to consult with a heating contractor (such as Riverside Home Heating and Plumbing) if you find you're having issues keeping your plumbing insulated—well-insulated plumbing will last much longer.