Born and raised in the South, I’m a typical southerner who thinks highs in the 50’s and 60’s is cold. It’s true us southerners also freak out when there’s a mention of snow in the forecast, even if no accumulation is expected. People here make mad dashes to the grocery stores where they’re willing to fight each other for that last gallon of milk or loaf of bread. When I think about it, I bet people up north who see freezing temperatures on a regular basis and a lot of snow during the winter months think we’re crazy. I probably would, too.
This photo was taken in Moody, Alabama last winter during one of my visits. Snow like this in Alabama will cause the whole town to shut down (and I’m kind of not kidding). This would be nothing for people up north. Photo: Lauren Whisenhunt
Even though we might not see the freezing temperatures like y’all do throughout most of the winter, we all need to make sure our pipes are protected for when we do. Probably most of us know or have heard by now how much damage can be done by frozen or broken pipes. When water freezes it expands and just a 1/8-inch crack can release up to 250 gallons of water a day. This can soak floors, rugs and furniture. You can think of it like a can of cola you leave in the freezer for too long. When the liquid freezes it expands and then the can explodes leaving you with a mess to clean up.
The best thing anyone can do is to plan ahead of time and not wait until the last minute to prepare. Let’s face it, the weather changes on a daily basis and things can come up that might prevent you from preparing like you should. If you’re a homeowner, here are a few things you can do before the next freeze that just may save your home from water damage from broken or frozen pipes. Make sure any exposed pipes are well insulated, including those in your home’s crawl spaces, attic and exterior. If you have any leaks, be sure to seal them up properly so cold air can’t get inside. Also, disconnect your garden hoses and turn off your pipes and drain any remaining water out of them.
If freezing temperatures are in the forecast for your area, one thing you can do (whether you’re a homeowner or apartment dweller) is open up your cabinet doors where the pipes are located. This will allow the heat from your home to get to the pipes under your sink. During extremely cold weather, it’s a good idea to let your faucet drip (both hot and cold) especially those that are not insulated. However, this won’t prevent the pipes from freezing as water can still freeze even with a trickle, but it’ll help relieve excess pressure that builds up. If you notice the faucet stops dripping (perhaps it’s frozen), leave it on as this will still help relieve the pressure.
Whether you’re at home or out of town, leave your heat on and set it no lower than 55 degrees. Sure, you may think you’re saving money on your electric bill when you’re out of town, but when you get back home and the pipes have burst, you’ll be spending a lot more. Another thing you can do whether you’re going out of town or just worried about your pipes freezing is to drain your water system. Turn off the water supply from the main valve and then turn on every faucet or fixture so all of the water will run out of your pipes. Think about it; if there isn’t any water in the pipes, it can’t freeze.
How do you know if your pipes freeze and what should you do? That’s a good question! Sometimes your pipes can freeze before you know it and cause damage, but one sign is that nothing comes out when you turn your faucet on. This could mean your pipes have frozen. Also, everyone in your household should be advised on how to shut off the water in case of emergency and the pipes do burst. This will stop the flow of water and minimize the damage to your home. If the water isn’t shut off, this can cause major damage. If your pipes burst, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve, call a plumber immediately and then contact your insurance agent. Even if you live in an apartment, it’s always good to have renters insurance.
Water damage from frozen and broken water pipes can be as catastrophic as a natural disaster. In fact, water damage from pipes bursting in freezing weather is second only to hurricanes in terms of the amount of claims insurance companies pay to homeowner and the number of homes damaged each year.