Thanks to an Arctic blast from the north, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC are dealing with below freezing temperatures this week. Add high wind gusts to the equation and the wind chill makes it feel even colder. Many hazards accompany below-freezing temperatures, including risk of hypothermia if you're outside for too long, damage to sensitive landscape plants, over-working your heating system, and frozen pipes.
Frozen pipes can be a homeowner's worst nightmare. When plumbing pipes are located in uninsulated or unheated areas of the home, below freezing temperatures can cause these pipes to freeze and potentially burst. If that happens, you're faced with flooding and water damage inside your home.
To help prevent pipes from freezing, many experts recommend letting your faucets drip when the weather is very cold. You can open cabinet doors to allow heated air to circulate around the exposed plumbing. You can install insulation around the pipes in the form of pipe sleeves made from foam or other insulating material.
So what do you do if you find your pipes have frozen? Turn on the faucet (although it will initially just be a trickle when the pipe is frozen). Then you need to apply heat to the frozen pipe. You can use an electric hair dryer, a small space heater, or a heating pad wrapped around the pipe. If you are unable to locate the frozen pipe or it's in an inaccessible area, you will need to call a licensed plumber.
And don't forget any water pipes located on the outside of your home. Outdoor hoses, swimming pools, and sprinkler systems are also susceptible to freezing pipes. Outdoor hoses should be drained and stored over the winter. Sprinkler and swimming pool supply lines should be drained according the manufacturer's instructions. Shut off the water valve that supplies your outdoor spigots and sprinkler system.
When the temperatures are this cold, don't get caught by surprise from frozen water pipes. Take steps to prevent it from happening in the first place, and know what to do if you do experience frozen or burst water pipes.