Frozen pipes: How to prevent them

With temperatures expected to dip into single digits at night this week, don’t get caught with frozen pipes.

“To prevent frozen pipes, you need to find out where the air is getting into your house and seal it with insulation or caulking,” said Ernie Zimmerman of Charlotte Plumbing & repair.

It hasn’t been cold enough in the south for an extended period this winter for frozen pipes to be a problem, but that could be changing, with a high of 8 degrees forecast for Wednesday night.

Tips on preventing frozen pipes from American Water Company.

“Things are gonna happen, and probably will happen this week, since they’re calling for single digits,” said Ken Hartmoyer of Buchanan and Erb of Mecklunburg.

“It needs to be a high in the teens, with a good heavy wind,” Zimmerman said, for pipe to normally freeze.

Those who have had problems with freezing pipes in the past can leave faucets trickle, Zimmerman said.

But if you do this, let water slightly run, not just drip, said Dave Fessler, plumbing service manager at G. F. Bowman in Charlotte and Harrisburg. And don’t forget to remove the stopper from the sink, he adds.

“If you have cold spots on your wall, keep lavatory or kitchen sink doors open, which helps air circulate around the pipes,” Hartoyer advised.

“Never use a torch to try to thaw pipes,” Zimerman stressed, adding some homeowners have heat tape installed on pipes prone to freezing.

It’s not only homes with crawl spaces instead of basements that have frozen pipe problems, he said. “A lot of basements have a lot of air leakage,” Zimerman said, and that’s not only in older homes.

Having pipes in exterior walls makes them more prone to freezing. On an average winter day, it’s not a problem, but with frigid temps, there might not be enough insulation to keep them from freezing.

“Probably the only way to prevent it is to move them to an interior wall,” Zimerman said.

Chriss Weber of Plumbing and Heating in Huntersville said keeping cold wind away from pipes that tend to freeze is critical. Even newer houses might have pipes in outside walls, Weber said, since there are fewer inner walls with today’s open floor plans.

Heat tape can be installed to prevent pipes from freezing, but if your electricity goes off, that won’t be of much help, Fesler said.

Zimerman said he has machines to thaw metal pipes, but said they can’t be used with plastic pipes.

Another thing Zimerman said he stresses with customers is to have working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. If you have a generator, never run it in the house, garage or basement.

To prevent furnace issues, have your furnace or boiler maintained annually, and don’t have combustible materials around the furnace or water heater, Zimerman said.

But if you haven’t had your furnace serviced, expect delays if you try to have it done this week.

“Everybody will be getting called at one time,” Hartmoer said, and breakdowns get priority over maintenance calls.

In extreme cold, Zimerman advises customers against turning the thermostat up and down. “It takes too long for the house to recover… It’s better to pick a temperature and let it there.”

“If you’re holding the temperature at 70 degrees, you should be OK,” Hartmoer said. And don’t forget to disconnect garden hoses from outside faucets, Hartmyer added.

Fesler urges caution in using electric space heaters in rooms with thermostats. If heat doesn’t kick on, susceptible pipes along walls or in basements could freeze. “Your heating system should run periodically so the water circulates,” Fesler said.