As the temperatures drop below freezing, homeowners across the country start to worry that their pipes will freeze.
Frozen pipes can be an inconvenience, leaving occupants without running water until the pipes thaw. They can also cause significant damage. Ice expands causing pipes to burst. Even a small, one-inch fissure in the pipes can cause a flood with hundreds of gallons of water.
Frozen pipes can happen at any time of the day, and no one wants to come home from work or wake up to gallons of water spilling into your home. Find out where frozen pipes are most common, and learn what you can do to avoid costly damage.
Where Are Pipes Most Likely to Freeze?
Using data from Google Trends, we’re able to identify the regions that are most affected by frozen pipes. When we look at long-term search data from 2004 to today, we find that frozen pipes can occur in a wide range of cities in both northern and southern climates.
Top 25 Cities with the Most Frozen Pipes
- Kirksville, MO
- Tupelo, MS
- Marquette, MI
- Harrisonburg, VA
- Ft. Wayne, IN
- Burlington, VT
- Scranton, PA
- Indianapolis, IN
- Davenport, IA
- Binghamton, NY
- Bristol, TN
- Anchorage, AK
- Traverse City, MI
- Huntington, WV
- Peoria, IL
- Jackson, TN
- Duluth, MN
- Portland, ME
- Salisbury, MD
- Toledo, OH
- Lexington, KY
- Pittsburgh, PA
- Richmond, VA
- Rhinelander, WI
- Odessa, TX
What Causes Frozen Pipes?
There are three main factors that contribute to frozen pipes.
Weather. Cold temperatures are the most common consideration for frozen pipes. Pipes won’t freeze without temperatures below 32°F. However, the weather certainly isn’t the only factor.
Time and Movement. Stationary water within your pipes that experiences prolonged exposure to cold weather is more likely to freeze. This is similar to how a pond will freeze over before a stream of running water. This principle explains why leaving a faucet dripping is an effective way to prevent frozen pipes. It keeps the water moving to prevent long exposure to cold temperatures.
Construction Practices. A building’s construction plays a significant role in whether a home’s pipes will freeze. For example, home builders in colder regions usually insulate homes well, but in warmer states, these precautions are sometimes skipped. Homes could have water pipes running along an exterior wall or through an unheated space, leaving plumbing at risk during a cold season.
What Whole-house Solution Can Help You Avoid Frozen Pipes?
The most effective thing you can do is fix the drafts.
Building contractors know that temperature alone usually isn’t enough to freeze pipes, and blowing cold air is often the prime culprit. This is why houses that are not tightly insulated frequently have problems. Even one small gap can cause enough temperature change to interrupt the water supply for your whole house.
Cold air often enters the home where the sill meets the foundation. You can see the most benefit by improving your insulation starting at the ground level, basement, or crawl space. This is usually the easiest pathway for cold air to enter the home.
Crawl space encapsulation or basement waterproofing systems use rigid insulation panels to create a tightly sealed space. These multipurpose solutions protect your homes from several issues including:
- Protects your pipes against cold drafts in the winter
- Helps reduce humidity in the summer
- Improves the energy efficiency of the home
- Helps protect against flooding or extreme weather
After addressing the major drafts coming from the ground level of your home, start to work your way upwards. Looks for areas near the walls of your home where drafts could be causing the pipes to freeze. Other common spots for drafts including behind the garden hose faucet or where utilities enter the building.
How Can You Update Your Plumbing to Avoid Frozen Pipes?
You can also directly address your plumbing pipes to protect them against cold weather. Try the following three strategies:
Improve pipe insulation. Foam plumbing insulation easily wraps around pipes to help keep them warm. This is especially important on water supply lines where water could be entering the home from a pipe via an underground line.
Add electrical heat tape. When used correctly, heat tape can add warmth to pipes and prevent them from freezing. It’s especially useful for vulnerable sections of pipe where problems commonly occur. Use caution and follow all safety guidelines to prevent a fire hazard.
Use a different material for pipes. Copper and PVC are common plumbing pipe materials, but their rigidity means they are likely to rupture if the water freezes. Ask your plumber if changing your pipe material can help you avoid problems. PEX pipes are somewhat flexible, and in some cases, they may be a better choice because they’re able to withstand the force of expansion if the water does freeze. However, it’s not a foolproof solution, and PEX pipes can also burst.
How Can You Protect Against Frozen Pipes Right Now?
If you’re headed into a patch of cold weather, use these three strategies to help avoid frozen pipes:
- Slowly drip the faucet. Leaving the faucet open helps keep the water in your pipes moving. This can help you prevent frozen pipes. The location of your home drafts will determine where your pipes are most likely to freeze. You may need to drip faucets in both the bathroom and kitchen depending on where your risks are.
- Regularly run the faucets hard. In houses that are very poorly insulated, full circulation of water in the pipes can help them from freezing. Regularly turn on the faucet to keep the water moving. If you have a guest house or other spaces that are infrequently used, remember to not let the plumbing sit idle in the winter.
- Vent under-the-sink cabinets. Keep your water pipes below the sink as warm as possible. By leaving kitchen and bathroom cabinets open, the warmth of the home will circulate next to the plumbing, helping you avoid a freeze in the line underneath your sink.