Winter Preparation

Preparing Your Water Pipes for Winter

Every winter, many homeowners deal with the expense and inconvenience of frozen water pipes – make sure you’re not one of them by taking a few simple precautions.    

  • Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses  Disconnecting the hose allows water to drain from the pipe so a freeze doesn’t burst the faucet or the pipe its connected to.
  • Run ¼ inch stream of water The most common advice is to continuously run a ¼ stream of water (the size of a pencil) until frost has disappeared from the ground.  As long as water continues to run at a high enough rate it should not freeze.
  • Which faucet should I let run? – Any faucet in your home or building will draw water from the underground part of the service lateral into the internal plumbing.  There is no need for this water to run through the entire internal plumbing system.  You might prefer to run water in a utility sink, typically in your basement, so you are less likely to be disturbed by the noise from running water.  Whatever faucet you choose to run, it would be a good idea to make sure all your family members or business associates know about it and even tape a sign to alert others to the situation.
  • Is there any way to tell if my water service lateral is about to freeze? There are some things to be aware of as possible signs your water service lateral is on the verge of freezing. These include:         

          – Noticeable reduction in the amount of water you see flowing out of your tap(s) and fixtures

          – Reduction in water pressure

          – Cold water temperature of 34 degrees or less

          – Discoloration of the water

The first three items listed above are likely a result of an ice cube or plug forming in the service lateral.  The discoloration would be from the ice plug loosening deposits on the inside of the pipe.    

  • I noticed the signs that my water service lateral might be freezing. What should I do?  The best thing you can do if you observe some of the signs your water service lateral is on the verge of freezing is to run one or more faucets at full stream for 5 to 10 minutes.  This should draw warmer water into your water service lateral which, as it flows, should be able to melt the cube or plug which has formed. 


  • Insulate pipes or faucets in unheated areas – Wrap water pipes in unheated areas such as the garage or crawl space before temperatures drop.  Pipe wrapping materials can be found at any hardware or building supply store;


  • Install “heat tape” or “heat cable” –  Install “heat tape” or similar materials  on all exposed water pipe (Example: exterior pipe or pipe located where the  temperature might drop below freezing).  It is easy to install and can be found at your local hardware or building supply store. Be sure that you use only UL-listed products and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully;


  • Seal off access doors, air vents, and cracks –  Winter winds whistling through overlooked openings can quickly freeze exposed water pipes. DO NOT plug air vents used by your furnace or water heater; 


  • Find the master shutoff valve – The valve is usually located where the water line enters your house or near the water heater / washing machine.  The master  shutoff valve turns off the water to the entire house. Consider painting it a bright color and make sure everyone in the household knows where it is;


  • What if the pipes have frozen? –  Due to wind and cold temperatures, your pipes can freeze, even if you take all the proper precautions.  If you think you know where the freeze occurred and want to try thawing it yourself, the easiest tool to use is a hair dryer with a low heat seating. Be prepared, thawing the  pipes can take several hours.  DO NOT under any circumstances use an open flame.  Using the  hair dryer, wave the warm air back  and forth along the pipe.  DO NOT heat only one spot on the pipe, as this can cause it to burst.  If you don’t have a hair dryer, you can wrap the frozen section with rags or towels and pour hot water over them.  It’s messy, but it works.  Be careful when heating the pipe.  It may already be broken and not leaking because the water is frozen.  When you thaw it out, the water could come gushing out.  Be ready to rush to the master shutoff valve if necessary.