If you've ever had the misfortune of having a water pipe freeze and burst, you know firsthand about what a devastating impact it can have on your home. The broken pipe itself is actually relatively minor, but the damage caused by the leaking water running through your walls and ceiling can mean a major reconstruction project, requiring replacing drywall, ceilings and maybe even furniture and appliances. Here are some ways to make sure you never have to go through that hassle.
Inspect all plumbing supply pipes in your house to determine which pipes may be vulnerable to freezing. Pipes most at risk are those exposed to the outdoors, pipes running through unheated crawlspaces or basements, and pipes inside exterior walls. Also look for areas where cold air is entering home, such as around ventilation ducts and pipes serving outdoor spigots.2
Turn off the water supply lines running to your outside spigots before the cold weather arrives. Typically there is a shutoff valve in the water supply line close to where it goes through the outside wall. Once the water is shut off inside, go outside and open the outside spigot. This will drain any water remaining in the pipe or in the and spigot, so there's nothing to freeze.3
Seal all air gaps in exterior walls with caulk or low-expanding spray foam.4
Wrap all pipes in potentially cold areas with fiberglass or foam pipe insulation, following the manufacturer's directions. Bear in mind that insulation merely slows the transfer of heat or cold; it does not create heat and will not prevent pipes from freezing in very cold temperatures. Any flow of cold air contacting a pipe significantly decreases the effectiveness of insulation.5
Install electrical pipe heating cable (available at home centers and hardware stores) on any pipes that run through very cold areas. Be sure to use only "listed" cable products, such as those approved by Underwriters Laboratories, and follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully. Improper installation and operation of heating cables can create a fire hazard.