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How to Prepare the Pipes in Your Home for Winter

by Andra Hopulele
5 min. read

Pipes and plumbing are your home’s circulatory system. And because they’re often out of sight, they can also be out of mind. That is, of course, until something goes wrong. And what worse time to have problems with your pipes than in winter? As always, prevention is the best cure, so let’s take a look at what you can do to prepare the pipes in your home for the cold season.

Drain your water heater

As soon as temperatures drop, the first thing you’re likely to do is to turn on the heating in your home. But since your heating was off all summer, it might be best to give it a quick inspection before the cold sets in. Drain the water in your heater and see if there’s any maintenance needed. While it can be tempting to save some money by doing this yourself, it might be best to call a plumber, especially if water heaters are not your area of expertise.

Fix any leaks

A leaky pipe might not give you too much pause for thought in summer, but during the cold season, even the smallest leak can freeze and cause the pipes to burst. Check the cabinets under the sink in your kitchen and bathroom, as well as the pipes in your garage, attic, and basement. Small leaks can be fixed quite easily with a compound stick or epoxy paste, however, larger leaks or even fissures might need the pipes to be replaced altogether.

Insulate your pipes

Insulating your pipes is especially important in colder areas of your home, such as the garage or basement, but it is wise to apply the same treatment to bathroom and kitchen pipes as well. You can do this either by wrapping them in slip-on foam pipe insulation or by installing a heat cable that runs along the length of your pipes. Both options require items you can pick up at a hardware shop, and it’s a job you can easily do yourself.

Make sure your home is properly insulated

Check for any cracks in the walls and seal them as soon as possible. If your pipes run through an exterior wall, check for any gaps between the pipe and the wall, and fill the holes with expandable foam. You can use the same foam to seal off rim joints in bathrooms and basements. Cold air can also come through gaps in your window panes, so make sure to insulate those as well, especially if your home does not have double-pane windows.

Keep a constant temperature in your home

Once your pipes and your house are both properly insulated, you will want to keep a steady temperature in your home, to minimize the chances of water freezing in the pipes. Even if you’re out for the day, set your thermostat so that your home is always warm. Nothing is worse than coming home after a hard day of work to discover that trying to save on your heating bill has resulted in a burst pipe.

Close the outdoor faucets

Turn off any outdoor taps and make sure that any water left in them has been drained. The same applies to any hoses you might have lying around. You might also want to get insulated covers for your hose bibs, before you turn them off at the shutoff valve. One thing to bear in mind is that, although leaving faucets running in your home helps prevent pipes freezing, this is never a good idea for outdoor taps. Water will freeze in the pipes very quickly, leading to pressure building up and the pipes bursting.

Prepare for cold snaps

Depending on where you live, cold snaps can be a real concern, so it’s best to be prepared. Leave your faucet trickling to prevent both water freezing in the pipes, and provide a release valve in case the pipes have frozen and pressure has built up. Also, remember that cabinet doors can trap cold air inside them, so if your pipes are tucked away in your kitchen and bathroom, leave the cabinet doors open to allow warm air to flow. It might also be wise to place a radiator in colder areas of your home, such as basements, garages, and even attics, where heat can escape much faster.

Prepare your home for when you’re away

Regardless of whether you’re spending the cold season somewhere warm or just heading out for the weekend, always make sure you turn off the water at the mains before you leave. This way, even if your pipes do freeze, the fact that there’s no water running through them will minimize the damage to your home. If you’re going away for long periods of time, draining the pipes is also a must.

Preparing your pipes for winter might seem like a big task, however, you will find that most of it is something you can easily do yourself. And as this is something you are likely to address every winter, proper year-round maintenance can save you a lot of work when the cold kicks in.

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