Heat is the secret to keeping water pipes unfrozen, of course. But what are the best ways to keep your water pipes warm and above the freezing point? First, let’s be clear about what pipes we’re talking about.
You only need to be concerned about water supply pipes, the ones bringing water into the house and then to the outside faucets, toilets, sinks, refrigerators, etc. These supply pipes are under pressure, storing water “on demand” – water that can freeze. In contrast, drainage pipes don’t store used water and, therefore, they can’t freeze.
Experts recommend always knowing where your main water supply shut-off valve is so you can shut off water to the entire house if a catastrophic leak occurs. It’s probably in a basement or main utility closet. Check it once a year to make sure it actually works. It might have rusted open and it’s better to find that out now than in a crisis!
To prevent your outside faucets from freezing, determine if you have a specific shut-off valve to your outside water. If so, close that valve and then open the faucet to drain the water that’s there. But whether you have that shut-off option or not, be sure to disconnect hoses from your outdoor faucets.
When it comes to sprinkler system pipes, be sure to shut off the flow to the system, drain the outdoor mechanism along with the portion of the pipe that’s inside. Release the pressure on the system and wrap everything outside in insulating material of your choice. Cover the whole outdoor system and pipes with plastic to keep it dry.
As for the pipes that supply the inside of the house, the key again is to keep them warm. Keep the heat in your home at a reasonable level. If you travel, resist the temptation to save money by turning your thermostat way down. Think twice about completely closing the heating vents in any room you’re not using. On exceptionally cold nights, allow faucets to drip (to keep water moving so it can’t freeze as easily) and be sure to keep bathroom vanity cabinet doors open – especially if the cabinet is up against an outside wall.
For the inside pipes located in cold areas (basements or attics), consider wrapping them in the kind of foam sleeves you can buy in home supply stores. Remember that this won’t add heat to the pipe, it will simply keep the pipe closer to the temperature of the water inside the pipe.
If you want some extra peace of mind, consider investing in a water leak detector, a wireless sensor device that syncs to an app on your smartphone.