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Frozen Pipes: a Fluid Ounce of Prevention

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Waking up on a winter morning to a home that is still nice and toasty, thanks to a good heat pump or furnace, is certainly a good thing. Everything seems to still be fine when you make that first toilet flush of the morning, In fact, you can remain blissfully oblivious to the problem until you start to run water for your coffee. But if you have a Keurig with a full tank, you might even miss it then.

You read the paper, sip your coffee, eat cereal. The coffee kicks in and you make your second bathroom visit of the morning. Visit Number Two, we’ll call it. You finish up, push the flush handle, and only then realize that something is wrong. Very wrong.

Whether you end up with a stink bomb in your bathroom, or get stalled way back at the coffeepot, the awful truth settles in: your pipes are frozen. From here, multiple questions start to come, especially if this home is new to you.

Is it one pipe, or multiple places?

Is it within the walls of the house, or in a crawlspace?

What are the temperatures going to be like for the coming days?

Is there any chance this might thaw out on its own?

And these are just the diagnostic questions related to the problem itself. You also have to figure out when you can make it in to work, whether kids can get to school on time, what you might do if this turns into a prolonged situation.

If this has not yet happened to you, consider that it just may be because you’ve been quite lucky. Perhaps that hated 3:00 a.m. visit to the bathroom each night has kept just enough water moving in your pipes to prevent a freeze before you could wake again and turn on the tap.

All it could take is one Friday night where you sleep solid through the night and a Saturday morning that you sleep in late and … no water.

So here are a few practical tips that you can use to help lessen the odds that you will be a victim of frozen pipes this winter.

1) Leave faucets trickling. This is the most common thing you hear, and with good reason. Even just a slight drip at multiple faucets can keep water moving in your pipes just enough to prevent freezing. Concerned about water conservation? Make that drip into the bathtub or a bucket. Transfer the water to the back of your toilet for flushing.

2) Open sink vanity cabinet doors, laundry room doors, and any other area that will allow warm air from the house to circulate to pipes better. You might be quite surprised at how cold a pipe in a laundry room, closed to the rest of the house, on an exterior wall, can get.

3) Disconnect all outside water hoses. Many outside water faucets are designed to drain back and not keep water standing in them. This design is defeated if a hose full of water is still connected to the faucet. Once that freezing point starts, it can spread further, perhaps just back far enough in the line to stop flow to the rest of the house.

4) Wrap any pipes you can find that might be exposed to outside air. This is often difficult to get to. If you rent a home, talk to the landlord about doing this. A reminder that any burst pipes will mean a homeowner’s insurance claim for them might make them appreciate your eye for prevention.

More such tips for prevention and for dealing with the aftermath of frozen pipes can be found at the Red Cross website.

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Frozen Pipes: a Fluid Ounce of Prevention
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