Plumbing 101: How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

Extreme winter conditions can cause pipes in your home plumbing system to freeze and burst, releasing a heavy stream of water that can flood your home with gallons upon gallons of water within minutes. Taking preventive measures will help prevent frozen pipes and the costly damage that can result.

Pipes are more susceptible to freezing when they’re not in use, since they aren’t being warmed by a steady flow of hot water for showers, dish washers, and laundry machines. If you’re going out of town, you will need to take extra precautions to prevent your pipes from freezing while you’re on vacation. However, during the extreme cold spells that happen during a Minnesota winter, your pipes are at risk of freezing even when you’re at home.

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes During Minnesota Winter

1. Insulate all water pipes.

The best way to prevent frozen pipes is by properly insulating your water pipes. Even a small gap in the pipe insulation can allow cold air to infiltrate, causing the pipe to freeze. In cold climates like Minnesota, it’s ideal to insulate as much of your pipes as possible. However, if you’re trying to save money, you can insulate only the sections of pipe most vulnerable to freezing. Pipes running through unheated and/or uninsulated areas of the house are at the greatest risk of freezing. That includes water pipes in the attic, crawlspace, garage, and exterior walls. Buy cheap foam insulation from your local hardware store to insulate your pipes.

2. Install heat tape on exposed interior plumbing.

For homeowners in moderate climates, foam insulation is sufficient to prevent frozen pipes. Minnesota, however, is not a moderate winter climate. Wrap thermostatically controlled heat tape around pipes to add an extra layer of protection against the cold.

You don’t have to wrap every pipe in heat tape. Focus on any problem pipes that have frozen before, or pipes in unheated or uninsulated areas of the home that become particularly cold. Heat tape runs pricier than foam insulation ($50-200 depending on length), but the cost is still minor compared to the cost of repairing damage from a burst frozen water pipe. It’s best to enlist a qualified plumber to help install heat tape. Check on heat tape periodically to make sure it isn’t frayed or worn out.

RELATED: How to Know Your Pipes Are Frozen

3. Install hot water recirculating pump.

Jot water recirculating pumps keep hot water moving through your pipes and back to the water heater. A sensor valve on the pump activates when the water on the hot water side cools, and then pushes the water back to the water heater. When the temperature in the hot water line hits 98F, the valve will close. Installing a hot water recirculation system helps ensure that you always have hot water in your taps and prevents pipes from freezing during the winter.

4. Keep faucets running at a slow drip.

You’ve probably heard the advice to prevent frozen pipes by keeping your faucets turned on to a slow but steady drip. This general wisdom does actually work, but it’s more of a temporary solution. During an extreme cold snap, having your faucets running will keep hot water moving through the pipes, thus preventing freezing. To avoid water waste, catch the dripping water in a bucket and recycle it to water plants or use for cleaning. 

5. Warm pipes with a space heater.

Another temporary method to prevent frozen pipes is to install a space heater near exposed water pipes. The space heater will provide enough heat to ensure that unprotected pipes stay above freezing. Make sure to follow space heater safety tips when using a space heater. If you find yourself resorting to this Band-Aid prevention method, we advise you to consult a qualified plumber for permanent solution to the problem.

Too late for prevention methods and you already have a frozen pipe? Here’s how to thaw a frozen pipe before it bursts. If that doesn’t work, call Bonfe for emergency frozen pipe repair services.

One thought on “Plumbing 101: How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

  1. Freezing pipes in the winter is never fun. I used to work at a home improvement store and we sold a lot of heat tape in the winter. Your tip about checking the heat tape to make sure that it is in good condition is a good one. Replace it when you need to.

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