12 Essential Tips to Prevent Frozen Pipes This Winter

Taking steps to prevent frozen pipes this winter should be one of your top priorities: if your home is not prepared for freezing temperatures, the risks of your plumbing system bursting are high — and the consequences are costly. Every winter, our Billings, Bozeman, and Great Falls offices receive a high volume of calls related to problems with heating and frozen pipes. We’re happy to answer frequently asked questions for all you do-it-yourselfers, so we’ve put together a list of essential tips that will help you — and your plumbing system — stay warm and happy this winter.

1. Set your thermostat at 70 degrees

Seventy degrees Fahrenheit is the optimal temperature to prevent frozen pipes, even in below-zero temperatures. So remember to set your thermostat before the below-zero temperatures hit, and to keep the temperature consistent throughout the day and night. If your thermostat runs on batteries, be sure to change them out when needed. (Is it a Honeywell thermostat? This video will show you how to change the batteries in a few simple steps.)

2. Keep the house sealed

Your thermostat won’t be very helpful if all that warmth is leaking out. By sealing the leakage points throughout your home, you will prevent unnecessary heat loss and better protect your plumbing system. If you have a crawlspace, close the vents. Tightly latch your windows. Close your garage door immediately after entering or exiting with your car.

3. For mobile homes: double-check your skirting

One of the most common issues for mobile homes during winter is poorly maintained skirting. So if you live in a mobile home, double-check that your heat tape is operational and the skirting is well insulated.

4. Leave faucets at a trickle

Running water is less likely to freeze, so turning on your bathroom and kitchen faucets — especially those that have a history of freezing — will reduce the risk of bursting pipes. But there’s no need to crank your faucets to full blast: a trickle is enough.

5. Open your kitchen and bathroom cabinets

If you have a sink on an outside wall, the risk of your pipes freezing is higher. Leave open the cabinets under the sink to expose your plumbing to the heat in your home.

6. Keep your garage heated

An unheated garage, especially one without insulation, can get below freezing when temperatures drop far enough — and freeze the plumbing in adjacent walls. If you have bathrooms adjacent to or above your garage, prevent frozen pipes by keeping the garage a similar temperature to the home.

7. Maintain a clean furnace or boiler

For both furnaces and boilers, a dirty or clogged exhaust can cause your heating system to work inefficiently or shut down completely. So make it a habit to check the flue to ensure there is no blockage and the combustion air is clear. If you have a furnace, replace the filter regularly.

8. Remove water hoses from outside hose bibs

Come wintertime, a spigot backed up with water can result in the pipe freezing and potentially bursting. Remove water hoses from outside hose bibs to ensure no water remains in the spigot. A warning: if you have a frost-free hose bib, be aware that they are not always functional at extreme temperatures; the safest solution is to always remove your water hoses.

9. Blow out your yard sprinklers

Water trapped in the sprinkler system is another way your pipes can freeze, expand, and burst. This step is easy to overlook: blow out your yard sprinklers to remove extra water and save yourself a sub-zero emergency.

10. Use your wood stove mindfully and sparingly

If you have a central heating system with one zone, a wood stove can trick your thermostat into thinking the house is warmer than it actually is. While the temperature may be warm near the wood stove, the rest of your home may be much colder. Be mindful when using your wood stove, and don’t make it a habit during freezing temperatures.

11. Don’t drive over septic lines

Driving — or, sometimes, even walking — over septic lines can push frost into ground and freeze the plumbing system underneath. Be alert to the location of your septic lines and avoid traveling over them.

12. Check your batteries and fuel

If you rely on batteries or a propane tank to heat your home, the failure of either power source during a cold snap will put your plumbing system at risk — and put you in a desperate situation. Always make sure your batteries are charged and kept warm, and ensure your propane tank has enough fuel.

If your pipes have already frozen, follow these steps:

1.  Locate your main water valve and shut it off. Do not leave your house until you do!

2.  If you can find and access the frozen pipes, safely use space heaters to help thaw them.

3.  Be prepared with mops and towels in case of a plumbing leak.

Bonus step:

If you cannot thaw your frozen pipes or you believe a pipe has burst, don’t panic: contact us to schedule emergency service! We’ll be there to help you.

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