How to prevent - and thaw - frozen pipes

Posted: February 08, 2014

Outdoor temperatures hover around freezing in the daylight hours and fall well below after dark. Combine that with the prolonged power outages caused by Wednesday's storm, and the possibility of frozen pipes increases.

That's not saying your pipes are certain to freeze. In addition to the temperature outside, several factors are involved, said Hap Haven, president of US Green Home and an expert on energy and building performance. Among those are the location of the pipes and how well that location is protected from cold-air intrusion.

Frozen pipes are less likely in newer homes built to modern energy standards, Haven said, although there are no guarantees.

Nor can you determine how fast the interior of your house will lose enough heat that water in the pipes turns to ice in colder spaces.

If you're concerned, the best solution is letting your faucets drip, which keeps water moving through the system and relieves pressure in the pipes so frozen ones won't burst.

"It's better to lose a couple of gallons of water than pay thousands of dollars for burst-pipe damage," Haven said.

Steve Tagert, president of Aqua Pennsylvania in Bryn Mawr, suggested turning the water off at the main valve as it enters the house, or at the meter.

Then choose the lowest sink in the house and open the hot and cold water. Then open all the hot and cold water faucets in the house, which will drain the lines into the sink at the lowest point, he said.

Flush all the toilets in the house to empty their tanks, Tagert said.

If a pipe should freeze, it will need to be thawed slowly, Haven said, with the nearest faucet open so water can flow.

The American Red Cross suggests applying heat to the frozen section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around it, or a hair dryer or space heater, or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water.

This winter's relentless frigid temperatures have pushed the number of frozen-pipe calls to rarely seen levels, Haven said.

"Usually," he said, "we get warm spells between."


aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472 @alheavens

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