How to prevent pipes from freezing: Steps to consider

Last updated: January 1

For anyone living in an area where temperatures regularly dip below freezing, a few precautionary steps to help protect your plumbing can be a cost-effective way to help avoid cleaning up after a burst pipe.

Read on to find out what the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) says you can do to help stay ahead of the freeze.

get a personalized insurance quote today

A great rate is just a few clicks away.

Protect pipes before a freeze

  • Be sure to insulate all accessible pipes well before a cold snap, says the IBHS. If you're not sure what type of pipe insulation to use, ask your local hardware store. The staff there should be able to help recommend insulation that is appropriate for your home and the winter temperatures in your area.
  • Apply pipe insulation to water pipes in unheated areas of your home, such as the garage, or in areas where pipes are near exterior walls, such as under kitchen or bathroom sinks.
  • Using a sealant or caulk approved for exterior use, shore up cracks and holes on your home's outside walls. (If you haven't done this already, you may have to save it for next spring. Caulk typically needs to be applied in temperatures of at least 45 degrees Fahrenheit, says the Department of Energy.)

Take action when temperatures drop

  • Regularly listen to your daily weather report, and be prepared for freezing temperatures and other winter weather advisories.
  • During severe cold snaps, keep exterior doors to unheated spaces, such as garages, closed, says the American Red Cross.
  • If kitchen or bathroom pipes are located near exterior walls, leave the cabinet doors open and use a fan to circulate the warmer air around the pipes, states the Red Cross.
  • Let taps slowly drip during extreme cold snaps to help prevent water from freezing and to relieve pressure in the event that some water does freeze, says Consumer Reports.
  • Consider installing a water leak alarm in areas where you might expect a problem, such as the basement.

How to check for frozen pipes (and thaw them)

To check on your pipes, Consumer Reports suggests turning on the faucet. If there's only a trickle of water or, even worse, there's no water coming out at all, then you should suspect a frozen pipe. The source of the freeze is likely near an exterior wall or where the main water supply enters your home, says Consumer Reports, so leave the faucet on and use a blow dryer (never an open flame torch or other device) to help heat the pipe until there's a steady flow of water.

Of course, if you can't locate the frozen pipe or just aren't comfortable doing it yourself, call a plumber.

Remember, a plumber may help with relocating certain pipes to help prevent a similar freeze in the future.