How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

Houses in the snow
Date: June 14, 2018
Author: Yaima Casillas
Tags: heating oil

You don't have to worry about frozen pipes if you've properly weatherized your home and have a full tank of oil.

There’s nothing funny about frozen pipes. Cold weather can be bad enough, but having water pipes freeze is something no homeowner needs. Every winter, thousands of homes suffer from frozen pipes that cost thousands of dollars of damage per building. That’s a terrible loss, but the really sad thing is that almost all repair costs of frozen pipes are preventable.

Only two things are required to make your pipes freeze. One is water present inside the pipelines. The other is temperatures falling below the freezing point. Remove either of these conditions, and you’ll never have dangers of frozen pipes.

Why Frozen Pipes Burst

Most people are taught that water freezes at +32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius). Technically, that’s correct. But in a household environment where liquid water is contained in a pressure or passive system, it doesn’t begin to ice until +20 Fahrenheit (-6 C). 

Most people also think that pipes burst because liquid water expands into ice causing it to break or split. That’s only partly true. Frozen water can produce enormous pressure. Pressure actually allows water to freeze at a lower temperature. What happens is an ice plug forms at a vulnerable point in a supply line. Backed-up pressure then causes a pipe to rupture at another weak point. This is why frozen pipes are so often accompanied by a continuous flow of running water.

Running water is also harder to freeze than stagnant pools. You see this in winter when fast-moving streams stay open well past the icing stage. The same thing goes on in your pressurized lines — as long as they’re kept running. But stop the flow, increase the pressure, and you’ve got the ticket to trouble once your temperature passes the frosty threshold.

How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing

You have two foolproof ways of preventing your pipes from freezing this winter. One is removing all the water and letting them drain out. That includes pressure and passive plumbing lines. The other is not to let them get cold enough to freeze.

Unfortunately, that’s not always practical. Sometimes nature catches you off guard and brings on a cold spell before you’ve prepared. Sometimes you simply forget or overlook a vulnerable area. We’re human, after all.

Heat-On Winterization

The best method for preventing frozen pipes in homes heated during the winter is making sure the heat source never stops. That includes making sure the primary heat source is well maintained and always supplied with fuel.

Heat-Off Winterization

Buildings left unheated during the winter need special attention, as one of the dangers of turning off heat in a house is frozen pipes.Winter-proofing water supply and drain lines are critical steps in places left to the cold. The basic principle is to drain and dry if they’re not going to be heated.

You don’t need to worry about frozen pipes if you’ve properly winterized your home. That’s especially true if your home is oil heated.

Stay warm this winter!