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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

The Big Freeze and Pipes

The cold spell now gripping much of the country is  dangerous temperatures most areas have experienced in the last five years. As such, frozen pipes can be a concern. Homes in Northern states are built for the cold, and we still get frozen pipes. In the South, though, pipes are on walls or outside a home, so protecting pipes during unusually cold weather is even more important. What can you do to prevent costly repairs because of frozen pipes?
 
Before pipes freeze:
 
- Make sure your home is as airtight as possible. Use the plastic sheets available in most hardware stores  towels to block off any drafts around windows and doors. Seal off unused doors with insulation for the season and, if you have an attached garages, keeping the door between the house and garage closed.
 
- Leave the cabinet doors under sinks open so warmer air can circulate around the pipes.
 
- When it is extremely cold outside, let the water drip from the faucet so there is always movement within the pipe.
 
- I tend to play with the thermostat in my house. When it is in the 20s and 30s, I try to beat the oilman by raising the temperature during the day and dropping it at night. But when it drops into the teens, single digits, or lower, I leave it at a reasonable temperature so the air in the house stays warm enough to prevent freezing. Fixing a frozen pipe is more costly than a little extra oil or gas.
 
- If you are going away for an extended period of time, have someone check your house. I leave the usually temperature at 55 degrees, but if the outside temperature is expected to drop below 0, I move it to 62 – 65 degrees. That way, if I lose power, the inside temperature will have farther to fall before it becomes dangerously cold.
 
- While 20 degrees is a moderate winter temperature in Northern states, a 20 degree night in the South can be a recipe for disaster for a home with exposed pipes. Be sure to insulate your outdoor pipes.
 
- Watch out, too, for interior pipes that run along exterior walls, because they are the ones most likely to freeze. If you can identify the ones that are coming in, wrap a sock or tape around the pipe to give it additional protection.
 
Dealing with a frozen pipe
 
If you turn on a faucet and the water trickles, then there is a good chance you have a frozen pipe. So this is what to do:
 
- Keep the faucet open so that when you thaw the pipe, the water will have a place to escape.
 
- Gradually thaw the pipe using a hair dryer or a small space heater. A friend of mine once wrapped a heating pad around the pipe, set to medium. Whatever you do, don’t go for the instant melt with a propane torch or other major device. Start to thaw the pipe at the faucet and work back toward the coldest section. Go slowly.
 
- Keep the heat on the pipe until you get a full flow of water pressure in the sink. Only when the first pipe is unfrozen should you check to see if there are other frozen pipes. Deal with pipes one at a time.
 
Prevent future freezes.  If you know that you have potential for frozen pipes, once it warms up:
 
- Relocate any pipe that froze so it is not on an exterior wall. Encase it in a box or wrap it in heating tape, foam, or heating cables.
 
- Make sure you have adequate insulation in your walls and attic.
 
- Call a plumber for any major work. This is one area where the consequences of a mistake outweight any money you might save.
 
- If you can locate where water enters your home, take a few minutes to follow your pipes so you are familiar with how they flow. It helps in an emergency.
 
If you or a friend has dealt with frozen pipes and can offer any other helpful suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment.
 
Keep warm!

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.