This article is part of a series written during Winter Storm Grayson in January of 2018. These posts are collected and identified by the hashtag ##wrgwinterstormnewport. Each post is based on a question or series of questions asked of me before, during and after the storm as a local property manager. 
Frozen pipes can easily be called every property owners worst nightmare. If you’re unfamiliar with this particular form of property owner torture, here’s a little discussion of what happens. 

Water is brought into your home via a main water line. It then runs off in different directions to feed your various kitchens and baths, laundry machines, water heaters any thing else that might use water. In New England and other areas where it gets cold, water occasionally freezes in the pipes. When water freezes it expands and sometimes that expansion causes breaks or cracks in your pipes.

Frozen pipes can create a cascade of issues, with maybe the most feared scenario being one like the photo above. Water has been running through cracked pipes unchecked, then temperatures have dropped again and caused frozen waterfalls. The worst case scenarios usually occur in an unoccupied home with no preventative action taken.

Frozen pipes do not have to result in thousands of dollars in damage. There are preventive measures you can take to head of freezing to begin with, and actions you can take once the pipes are frozen to control, minimize or even prevent damage. This article focuses on what to do when you’re in the trenches like we are today and freezing is a very real possibility.

Before Freeze: Take steps to make sure warmer air is circulating around and near pipes that are vulnerable. If your pipes freeze at a particular spot in the basement, consider a supplemental heat source specifically for those pipes.

Pipe Heat Tape is a very useful option if you have convenient access to a power source. Pipe heat tape has a thermostat that causes the tape to warm the pipes when a set temperature is reached. It’s simple to install and easy to use, a great solution for pipes that are easily accessible and for when you have power.

Insulation: For exposed pipes use a foam rubber pipe insulation and make sure you mitre and cover exposed corners. This can be a pain in the neck and take time but it’s a good “sleep at night” insurance.

For those pipes you can’t access, there is lots of advice out there. Talk to a plumber, assuming you’re doing this when there’s time to talk to a plumber, and find out whether you can open the wall or if you can spray in insulation in a meaningful way. If the plumbing is flush with the outside wall it could be useless to spray foam in because that could actually insulate that pipe from the heat on the interior.

During a Storm or Weather Event:

If you’re in the trenches in a storm, think about how to keep those pipes as warm as you can. Open cabinet doors under kitchen and bathroom sinks, consider running a space heater near an open under sink cabinet with the caveat that it must be monitored for fire safety reasons. Run a space heater with a safety shut off switch in your basement near a pipe that runs up the outside wall.

Keep water dripping from all faucets that can potentially freeze. It can be cold water, hot water is not necessary. If you have tenants in those units, the tenants should notify you immediately if water pressure drops during cold weather or if any faucets don’t run free and clear. If you’re a landlord talk with your tenants prior to a severe weather event. Help educate them on what’s needed. Unless you’re a concierge or systems engineer in a large apartment building, your tenants have a responsibility and a vested interest to help prevent issues in their units.

If Frozen: If you have a frozen pipe you may still be able to prevent a break or crack in your plumbing. Using an indirect heat source like a blow dryer or other heat blower, start near the main water source by holding the dryer on high heat about six inches away from the pipe. As the pipes warm up move closer to the frozen area. Don’t bang on the pipes or put the heat directly on the pipes; frozen copper can split and that’s what you DON’T want to happen.

Get warmer air into areas near where the pipe is frozen; add space heaters right in the cabinet but be aware of safety concerns. Clear the cabinet of any flammables, like paper or chemicals.

If you can’t thaw: If you can’t get the water moving again and you’re going to wait for warmer temps or if you have no power, call a plumber. Many plumbers have equipment they can use to defrost your pipes and get you up and running. If you are in the midst of a severe weather event (blizzard, impassible roads) and the plumber can’t get to you until the next day, you might consider turning the water off at the main, where it comes in from the street. Here’s a video tutorial.

This will stop additional water from feeding into your pipes and minimize damages. If you have a burst pipe at this stage, the water that will leak or run is limited to that water already in your home rather than a steady stream feeding in from the main water line. This is a stop gap measure if you need to buy yourself some time to find another solution.

Vacant Home: If you have a vacant home and it’s winter, consider having a plumber winterize your home. Winterizing a home is done when the home is expected to be vacant for a season. All the water is removed from the home to prevent the pipes from freezing and breaking. Signs are placed conspicuously at sinks and toilets stating the home is winterized and has no plumbing. This is not a short term solution for a storm coming.

If this information has been useful, let us know! Warner Realty Group is a local full service real estate company providing Sales, Rentals and Property Management Services in Rhode Island. How can we help YOU?