As we type this, it’s snowing in Mid October in Minnesota. This means, yes winter is here whether we like it or not. It’s important to start preparing to winter-proof your home, especially your water pipes. You may have questions like how cold it has to be for my pipes to freeze or how to prevent burst pipes in the dead of winter. We’re here to help you out.

How Cold Does it Have to be Outside for My Pipes to Freeze?

The freezing temperature of water is 32°F. Since pipes are insulated, it will need to get a little colder than that to infect the water in your home’s pipes. A general suggestion is 20°F, but that number can depend on many other factors.

The pipes that are inside your home are protected by your home’s insulation. However, when outside reaches freezing temperatures, the water coming into your home from the outside is going to be much colder. But since your pipes are protected from some insulation, it will take outside temperatures getting much colder than 32 degrees to cause freezing and bursting pipes. A good rule of thumb is 6 consecutive hours of exposure to cold air at 20 degrees Fahrenheit or lower can put your pipes at risk of freezing.

What Happens When Pipes “Burst”?

A burst pipe does not mean it literally burst and exploded all over your basement. It also doesn’t necessarily burst at the site of ice forming in the pipe.

What happens is, when the water in your pipes freezes, it expands. Let’s get to the science of it for a second — the molecules of ice are larger and a different shape than the molecules of water. This means it’s taking up more space in your pipes and thus begins to expand through the pipes. The ice does not expand outward, stretching your pipes until they burst. It’s expanding through the pipes and so the pressure that builds up as air is forced towards a closed faucet is what inevitably will lead to your pipe cracking or bursting, far from the site of the actual ice.

This explains why even if the frozen pipes are outside of your home or basement, you can have burst pipes inside causing flooding. It was due to the pressure building up in front of the expanding ice that eventually led to your basement or indoor plumbing.

How to Prevent Pipes from Bursting

If you live in a climate that experiences freezing temperatures, you will want to take a few precautions to prevent your pipes from freezing. Here are a few tips for pipe burst prevention.

Add Insulation to Walls and Pipes

Ensure your pipes have proper insulation, especially those that are leading into your home from outside. Pipe insulation can come in many forms — any of which you can pick up at your local hardware store, or have a local plumber insulate them for you. There is an insulation wrap made of fiberglass or polyethylene. You can also use fiberglass or foam insulation that comes in a tube form that simply wraps around your hot or cold water pipes.

You should also ensure there is proper insulation in the walls near the point of entry for pipes. An uninsulated basement or poorly insulated basement is definitely putting you at more risk for burst pipes because there is no added warmth to warm up the freezing water from the outside.

Install Heating Tape

In the same vein, you can install heating tape on your pipes. Heating tape contains an electrical cord running through it that warms your pipes just enough to keep the water from freezing. This can be a great option for folks who have experience freezing pipe frequently and really need that extra protection against freezing temps.

Direct Warm Air to Colder Areas of Your Home

Places in your home like crawl spaces, storage areas, or just corners of your basement can all get pretty drafty. It’s important to try and direct warmer air to those areas during cold weather months. This can mean leaving a door open for a better flow of warm air. You could use fans or space heaters (safely) to warm those areas up. Even leaving cabinets doors open in the kitchen or lower level bathroom can help warm those pipes enough to keep from freezing.

Seal Cold Air Leaks

If you notice any cold spots in the lower levels of your home, that could be due to a cold air leak. Seal any cracks in your foundation or window wells so that cold air stays out. If your home is properly sealed and keeps the heat in, it can be just enough to prevent a frozen pipe.

Disconnect and Flush Your Outside Faucet

Every winter you should disconnect your outside hose from the outside faucet. You should also flush the faucet and make sure it doesn’t get large amounts of water freezing on the outside. That can build up pressure inside your pipes leading to bigger issues.

Leave a Few Water Faucets Running

On extremely cold days, running a few faucets for a while can help to keep that water from freezing. If water is flowing throughout your water supply, it can warm up any potential ice and prevent pressure build-up. This is very important for preventing burst pipes.

If you Leave Town, Have Someone Check on Your Home

If you ever take a vacation in the winter months, and temperatures are going to be far below freezing, it is probably a good idea to have a housesitter. At the very least, you should have someone come check on your house and they can run through this list of tips to prevent frozen pipes. Have them check for cold spots downstairs, they can run a few faucets for a bit, and crank the heat for a while while they’re home.

Some people may want to save on heating and turn it down while they are away, but that can put you at risk of lower temperatures infiltrating your home and your pipes. The last thing you want to come home to is a flooded basement because everything was too cold for too long.

Despite all the stories you’ve heard of people having to deal with a burst pipe in their basement, chances are relatively low if you follow these tips to prevent it from happening. Don’t neglect your pipes in the winter months. If you are concerned about how to go about winterizing your home, please give A.J. Alberts a call. We can help you prepare for winter and give you some routine preventative maintenance so you can rest easy.