Most of us can’t imagine living without our modern conveniences. From smartphones to air conditioning, we rely so heavily on these advancements that we’d have a tough time getting through the day without them. The same goes for our plumbing. Though standardized plumbing can be traced back to 3,000 B.C., the majority of Americans would never choose to forgo working toilets and running water.

Unfortunately, that scenario could become your reality this winter if you don’t take proper precautions. While run-of-the-mill plumbing problems like leaky faucets and running toilets are mildly annoying (albeit costly, as these “small” issues waste a trillion gallons of water a year), you’ll have a huge issue on your hands if your pipes freeze. To protect your home as the temperature drops, keep these tips in mind.

Search and Seal

Firstly, you’ll need to identify where your un-insulated pipes are and make efforts to provide better temperature control in those areas. Look around your home for water supply lines in unheated areas, like the attic, garage, crawl spaces, and underneath cabinets. These water pipes should be outfitted with some kind of insulation, like pipe sleeves, heat tape, heat cables, or even newspapers. However, you should always proceed with caution and follow manufacturer instructions to ensure your insulation won’t present a fire hazard. Pay attention to pipes and hoses that run outside, as well. Any garden hoses should be drained and disconnected for the season. You should also seal any cracks or holes in walls, around doors and windows, and in the foundation to prevent cold air from coming in and impacting your pipes.

Fight the Freeze

When temperatures really start to fall, you’ll need to go into protective mode. Have an action plan of items to check off your to-do list when it’s frigid outside. If you’re heading out of town, make sure your thermostat is set to no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This can reduce the risk of having your pipes freeze while you’re away. When you’re home and weathering the storm, you’ll want to open cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate. You may also want to keep the most vulnerable faucets dripping overnight, as this can prevent frozen plumbing. Not sure if your pipes are in danger of freezing? Take the temperature of your tap water. Normally, ground water temperatures might be in the 40-50 degree range. But if your cup of tap water is nearing the 32-degree freezing mark, you’ll want to spring into action.

Have a Plan of Attack

Despite your best efforts, it’s possible your pipes might have the chance to freeze anyway. Frozen pipes can often burst, which will create a whole other host of problems for homeowners. Despite the fact that 98% of homes with basements will experience some type of water damage, you won’t want to live through that situation if you can avoid it. So if you discover your pipes are frozen, you’ll need to know exactly what to do. For one thing, you should keep the faucet open. If the water is running when that area of the pipe starts to melt, this can help get everything flowing. You can then apply heat to the frozen part of the pipe with a hair dryer, an electric heating pad, or towels soaked in warm water. It’s not advised to use a space heater in certain circumstances, and you should absolutely never use a blowtorch, a propane heater, or any other type of open flame to heat your frozen pipes. Continue to heat until water pressure is restored. And if you’re unable to access the frozen pipe or you’re not having luck on your own, call in the professionals post haste.

With these tips in mind, you should be able to protect your pipes and feel more comfortable in your home all season long. After all, the last thing you’ll want to deal with when preparing for the holidays is a plumbing problem.

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