Frozen pipes and other plumbing problems are quite common during the cold winter months. Having a pipe freeze or your home flood during the winter can be a nightmare. Luckily, many plumbing issues are fairly easy to avoid, and here are some tips on the ways you can prevent plumbing problems from arising this winter.
Shut Off and Drain Outdoor Plumbing Fixtures
Before the freezing temperatures set in, you should always disconnect any hoses and winterize your hose bibs and any other outdoor plumbing fixtures. This is important since otherwise there is an extremely high chance the pipes that supply the bibs and other fixtures will freeze and possibly burst.
Every outdoor fixture will have a shut-off valve on the pipe inside your home, and you need to make sure to close all of the valves so that the pipes aren’t full of water. Once the valves are closed, you need to open up the hose bib or fixture until all of the remaining water in the pipe drains out. You then need to make sure to close all of the fixtures to prevent cold air from traveling up through the pipe.
Upgrade to Frost-Proof Hose Bibs
Standard hose bibs can still easily end up freezing even if you make sure to shut off the water and drain them. The stem on a hose bib is the part that sticks through the wall and connects to the water line inside. On standard bibs, the stem is quite short and only sticks an inch or two inside your home. This means that the water line extends almost out to the edge of the foundation where the air is much colder.
The stem on a frost-proof hose bib extends much further inside. This means that the water line and shut-off valve are further away from the foundation where the air is warmer, which greatly reduces the chances of the pipe freezing.
Most frost-proof bibs will have the words “frostproof” directly printed on them. You can also tell if your bibs are frost-proof by the shape. On a standard hose bib, the handle is directly on top and the hose connection is at the end. Frost-proof hose bibs have the handle at the end and the hose connection sticks out from the bottom of the pipe.
Most frost-proof hose bibs also have a plastic or metal anti-siphon valve at the back near where the pipe sticks out of the wall. This anti-siphon valve doesn’t have anything to do with preventing the pipe from freezing, but it still serves an important purpose. If you have a hose connected to a standard bib, a change in pressure in your plumbing system can cause a siphon effect that sucks water back up the hose and into your house. This would contaminate your water supply, which is what the anti-siphon valve prevents.
Insulate Your Water Lines
In colder climates, it is also important to make sure that your exposed water lines are fully insulated. The pipes that are at most risk of freezing are those in a crawl space, attic, and along basement walls, and these should always be insulated. If your pipes are already insulated, you should always check the condition of the insulation every fall. Pipe insulation can slowly degrade and start falling apart, which leads to gaps where cold air can reach the pipe and increase the risk of it freezing.
The lines in the central parts of your home that supply your faucets, showers, and other fixtures usually don’t need to be insulated. These lines are usually fine since the air around them will usually stay warm enough to prevent them from freezing. However, if your kitchen faucet or other fixtures are located along an exterior wall, it’s a good idea to insulate the section of pipe that sticks out through the wall and leads to the fixture.
Open Your Faucets and Cabinet Doors
Whenever the outdoor temperature is near 0 degrees or colder, you may need to take extra precautions to prevent your pipes from freezing. The easiest way to keep your pipes from freezing in extremely cold temperatures is to leave a trickle of water running so that water keeps flowing through your pipes instead of standing still. Standing water freezes extremely easily, but running water typically won’t freeze. This is why rivers keep flowing in the winter while lakes and ponds quickly freeze.
If the pipes in the cabinet underneath your kitchen or bathroom sink aren’t insulated, it’s also a good idea to leave the cabinet doors open when it’s extremely cold. Keeping the doors open will allow warm air to flow inside the cabinet so the pipes stay warmer and are less likely to freeze.
Inspect and Test Your Sump Pump
Winter snows can often cause basements and crawl spaces to flood, which is why many homes in snowy climates have sump pumps. If there was recently lots of snow that quickly starts to melt, it can saturate the ground around your home to the point where the water starts to seep into your basement or crawl space. If your sump pump is working correctly, it should be able to handle all of the water and prevent your home from flooding.
The best way to ensure that snowmelt doesn’t flood your home is to inspect and test your sump pump before winter or have a plumber do it for you. The first step is to take the pump out of the sump basin and thoroughly clean the screen on the inlet at the bottom of the unit. This screen often gets clogged with mud and debris, which prevents the pump from working effectively.
If you don’t keep the screen clean, your sump pump may not work effectively enough to prevent flooding. The motor on a submersible sump pump can also easily burn out if the screen is clogged. This is because submersible units rely on water flowing through them to cool down the motor and prevent it from overheating.
Once the screen is clean, the next step is to test the sump pump by putting water in the basin with a bucket or hose. Most sump pumps have a float switch that will trigger the pump to turn on when the water in the basin reaches a certain level, but some more advanced units will turn on as soon as there is any water in the basin. Depending on the size of the basin and the type of switch your pump has you may need to put around 10 gallons of water in the basin to trigger the pump to turn on.
If your sump pump runs and pumps effectively, it should be good to go. If it doesn’t turn on, you may need to replace the float switch or install a new pump. When testing the pump, you also want to listen to make sure the motor doesn’t make excessive noise since this can indicate it isn’t working effectively or is starting to wear out.
One of the easiest ways to prevent winter plumbing problems is to contact Apollo Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a complete plumbing, drain, and sewer inspection. Our team specializes in all residential plumbing installation, repair, and maintenance services, and we also offer professional heating and air conditioning for customers in the Portland, Vancouver, and Boise areas. If you have any plumbing issues or need any HVAC services, give us a call today.