Every Autumn as temperatures drop it’s important to be prepared for the cold weather’s effect on your home’s water pipes. As water in your pipe freezes, it expands and places immense pressure on the pipe wall. Expanding water can cause pipes to break leading to expensive repairs. Pipes exposed to extremely cold temperatures are most susceptible to damage including those outside of the home, and water supply lines in unheated areas like basements, attics, and kitchen cabinets.
Water utilities are responsible for water mains and pipe lines that connect to your home, but not pipes located on your property. If a pipe bursts on your property, call a plumber immediately for repairs. Help protect your pipes from potential damage by following these steps. Click image to enlarge, and back button to return to page.
Prevent Frozen Pipes
- Remove, drain and store garden hoses.
- Close the inside valves that control the water supply to outside hose attachments (known as bibs).
- Open the outside hose bibs to allow any water in the line to drain out. Keep this outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
- You may want to install a “pipe sleeve” for water pipes that are not insulated. Building supply stores carry these and other supplies for insulating pipes.
- If you go away for an extended time during cold weather, leave the temperature set above 55 degrees before you leave.
- In severe cold weather, let cold water drip from faucets served by exposed pipes. The cold water is still above freezing and will help prevent the pipe from freezing.
- Seal air drafts around fixtures.
- Insulate pipes in unheated areas.
- When freezing weather is coming, turn off water to outside spigots and drain all water from the line.
- Drain in-ground lawn irrigation systems. (Check manufacturer instructions.)
- Report broken or missing meter lids to the Service Authority to help prevent frozen meters.
- During extended absences from home in the winter, set the thermostat to at least 55° F or simply shut off the main water valve to protect pipes.
Thaw Frozen Pipes
- Shut off the water immediately at the main shut off valve.
- Open the faucet so that water will flow through the pipe once the area is melted. This will help melt more ice.
- Apply heat to or around the pipe using a hair dryer. Keep all sources of heat away from flammable materials and do not use any open flame devices, kerosene heaters, or blow torches. Also, do not use devices that will cause the melted ice to boil, as that can also cause pipes to break.
- Once pipes are thawed, slowly turn water back on and check all joints for leaks and other areas for cracks that may have occurred as a result of the freeze.
- Call a licensed plumber if you cannot locate the frozen section, you are unable to reach it, or you are unable to thaw it. Check for other frozen pipes in your home or business, especially those pipes that are located along an exterior wall or bring the water into the building at the foundation.
If your household pipes burst…
- Shut off your main water valve.
- Call a licensed plumber immediately.
If you suspect your meter might be frozen or suspect a pipe burst in your community/neighborhood, call your water utility’s customer service line to let them know so they can schedule a service call to fix it.
- DC Water 202-612-3400
- Fairfax Water 703-698-5600
- Loudoun Water 571-291-7880
- Prince William County Service Authority 703-335-7900
- Virginia American Water 800-452-6863
- WSSC 301-206-4002