Preventing Frozen Pipes

February 6, 2019

Here in western Oregon we’re used to fairly mild winters. Low temperatures dip into the low 30s, but we don’t often experience the bitter cold that’s the norm in the Midwest and Northeast this time of year. After a ½ inch of snow shut down most area schools yesterday, we’re back to normal after what many jokingly called the “snow-pocalypse.”

Instead our usual drizzle and gray skies, we’re looking at a week of temperatures dipping into the low 20s, something many of us in the Portland area aren’t used to. Anytime temperatures are in the 20s for longer than four hours, it’s important to take extra steps to prevent burst pipes. According to the Insurance Information Institute, water damage accounts for almost half of all property claims.

Outdoor Precautions

As I tried to scrape together snowballs in my yard yesterday, I started looking around outside to see what precautions I needed to take before the nasty cold really set in. If you’re expecting prolonged weather in the 20s and below, here are some things to take care of before or even after it starts:
Shut off your irrigation system: While this might seem obvious, some of us forget to do this in the fall. Even if it’s already freezing outside, it’s better to shut off your irrigation system now than wait for temperatures to rise.
Remove outside hoses: Again, this may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s often overlooked.
Drip outside faucets for at least four hours a day: Protect faucets with Styrofoam covers the rest of the time.

Preventing Damage Indoors

While frozen pipes indoors aren’t as common in newer homes with better insulation, it’s worth keeping a few things in mind:
Inspect pipes in unheated indoor spaces: Unheated interior spaces, such as a garage, attic or basement are at greater risk for frozen pipes. It’s worth spending 5-10 minutes walking around each area to look for exposed pipes. If any pipes are not insulated, you can buy inexpensive pipe insulation at your local hardware store. I’d also suggest taking pictures of each area in case the person helping you has any questions.
Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors: Even if your house is well insulated, if you have sinks near an outside wall, it doesn’t hurt to open cabinet doors to give those pipes some extra warmth. And while you’re at it, you may want to let those inside faucets drip cold water for at least four hours a day.
Flush all toilets once a day: If you have more than one toilet, be sure to flush each one daily during a cold spell. There’s a lot of advice online about draining toilets, even flushing them with antifreeze. Before you go that far, it’s a good idea to check in with a local plumber to make sure you don’t do more harm than good.

Prevention Tips from the Pros

For more detailed information about how to prevent frozen pipes, check out Frozen Pipes, an informative article written by the American Red Cross. There are plenty of other resources online, as well as many local organizations that can help you prepare for your specific climate.

Right now in Portland, it’s a balmy 36 degrees outside. While I’d rather sit in front of a warm fire when I get home tonight, I know I’ve got some work to do to get ready for our predicted 21-degree low this week. I’d rather spend a little time buttoning up things now than spending thousands to fix burst pipes later on. In the case of freezing pipes, a little prevention can go a long way. Stay warm out there, and here’s to hoping that Puxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring will come true soon.

*The Red Cross emblem and American Red Cross name and logo are federally protected and registered marks of The American National Red Cross and protected under United States Code, Title 18, Section 706.