Research has shown that when the temperature falls below 20 degrees outdoors for two or three days, unprotected pipes are more likely to freeze.
Occasionally during the winter, outdoor temperatures can hover around freezing in the daylight hours and fall well below after dark.
Combine that with the prolonged power outages that often result from major storms at this time of year, and the possibility of frozen pipes increases.
All houses are different, but research has shown that when the temperature falls below 20 degrees outdoors for two or three days, unprotected pipes are more likely to freeze.
This doesn’t mean your pipes will freeze. Where the pipes are located and how well they are insulated are two factors that determine whether your water lines are vulnerable.
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Typically, newer homes are better insulated than older ones, but you never know what things look like behind the walls.
The simplest strategy is to let your faucets drip, which keeps water moving through the system and relieves pressure, so any pipes that have frozen will not burst.
If you are concerned that your pipes might burst, turn the water off at the main valve as it enters the house, or at the meter. Then choose the lowest sink in the house and open the hot and cold water. (In our house, for example, that would be the laundry sink in the basement.)
Next, open all the hot- and cold-water faucets in the house, which will drain the lines into the sink at the lowest point.
Flush all the toilets in the house to empty their tanks.
If a pipe freezes, it will need to be thawed slowly, with the nearest faucet open so water can flow.
The American Red Cross suggests applying heat to the frozen section of a pipe by wrapping an electric heating pad around it, turning on a hair dryer or a space heater near it, or wrapping it with towels soaked in hot water.
One of the best ways to prevent such little surprises is to be aware of the vulnerable areas in your house before the situation arises.
If the pipes in your basement run up against cold walls, for instance, wrap them in some sort of insulation.
If your house is subject to power outages, invest in a portable generator to keep your heaters and sump pump running in the meantime.