Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Keep Your Pipes From Freezing

I have complained about winters before but this one is beyond complaint. It has been ridiculously cold for long periods of time. Our normal 2 day or so snow to water cycle has closed. The bitter cold has created unprecedented problems for buildings. Frozen water lines wreaked havoc on buildings. Sustained cold caused less vulnerable systems like heating lines and fire suppression systems to freeze, burst and flood. Heating systems are working overtime to catch up. Protecting property and ensuring safety is essential. Here are a few cold weather building survival tips.

Be sure all outside vents are clear of snow. Natural snow banks are not standard around here, although deep snow or drifts can clog vents and make systems inefficient. Minimum ground to vent heights may not be enough for this winter. Snow blocked dryer vents cause inefficiency and can become potentially dangerous from lint building up.

Blocked direct vent furnaces or hot water heaters can be dangerous, allowing carbon monoxide to accumulate in closed spaces. And with such a high heating demand, accumulation of carbon monoxide happens much faster.

Water Pipes
Water can easily freeze in as little as a few hours. Location makes all of the difference. Drafty outside walls, crawlspaces, basements, or just simple utility chases near the outside of a building are suseptable to drafts and freezing pipes.

Inactive or stagnant lines such as infrequently used bathrooms to sprinkler systems should be monitored during real cold snaps. Allowing faucets to drip can work, although infrared camera technology can discover vulnerable spots before freezing occurs. You can shut off valves and open frost free outside faucets just in case.

There are leak defense systems that can be installed. These systems shut the system down when they detect leaks or water movement.

Heating Systems
Forced hot water systems, such as baseboard or radiators can freeze. Steam should be OK, although be sure all of the valves are open, and the system has been bled and cleaned. Clogged radiators with residual water can freeze.

Closed loop systems are much safer. Forced hot air, or even baseboard closed loop systems should not freeze, since there is antifreeze mixed into the water.

I know I have mentioned turning down thermostats, closing doors and vents to conserve energy; the less you run your system the cheaper it is. Yet the problem with running less is vulnerability to freezing, so keep your system running and the doors open. How warm depends on how cold the room is or how much wind is blowing on your pipes.

Know your shut offs
Plan ahead by knowing where your water feed shut off is (most come through the front of the house), and be sure it works. If you don’t know, or are afraid to try, call someone who can. If you are adventurous, learn your house so you can turn off the valves closest to a leak. A plumber can come and tag your valves for peace of mind.

Find the cold air
An easiest way to find cold air streams is an infrared camera. They are more and more common in the trades, where most insulators, energy auditors, HVAC, and General Contractors are likely to have them. If you are concerned, have someone go through your house and look for suspected air leaks.

Exposed or buried pipes
Exposed pipes are the easiest to protect from freezing. Anywhere you feel cold around exposed pipes, get some pipe insulation wrap. Pipes buried in walls can be a bigger problem since they are out of sight and out of mind. If you have had freezing pipes or think you may, calling someone with an infrared camera will save you time and money in guesswork.

Radical weather fluctuations push our building to behave in ways they were not designed to. The consequence will require us to pay more attention to the building’s we love and work in. So start investigating, or find someone who can. It is well worth the investment.

Leave a Reply