12 Tips & Tricks From $0 to $50, Keep Pipes From Freezing

outdoor faucet with ice on it

Frozen pipes are always an issue for those of us who live in cold, snowy climates. Where every household knows how to keep their pipes unfrozen, protected, and adequately insulated against frigid temperatures. But what about the cold snaps you are not used to? Here are 12 Tips and Tricks to heed the bitter cold for your pipes.

  1. Open cupboard doors
  2. Make the faucet drip, or trickle.
  3. Close exterior doors
  4. Remove your hose and cover the bibcock.
  5. Open crawl space access (if inside)
  6. Keep the thermostat at the same temperature or higher.
  7. Add heat to the cold area.
  8. Use fans to blow warm air
  9. Apply heating cable or heat tape
  10. Insulate questionable pipes
  11. Seal cracks and holes
  12. Add long-term insulation to questionable areas.

Many of us are looking for solutions on how to fight a sudden “Polar Vortex” that makes temperatures drop below our normal of what we are used to, you know, freezing weather where otherwise there would not be.

Let’s dig into and wrap up, so to speak, a little deeper into the steps, so they make more sense.

Open Cupboard Doors

For someone like me, who’s can sometimes wait till the last minute. A simple tip and easy way to protect pipes is just by opening the cabinet doors. Keeping your cabinet doors open during the winter cold snaps will allow your 70-degree indoor temperature to sneak in and warm the pipes.

This technique is useful for kitchens, or bathroom cabinets on an outside wall where the cold can permeate through to the pipes closed off from the warm house.

You only need to crack them open to allow heat in, and if you have self-closing doors, just put a hand towel bunched up to keep it ajar.

Make the Faucet Drip

When the temperature drops down, the chance for your pipes to freeze and burst is high and can happen fast. The pipes from near a garage, basements, and attics are at risk during this period. Even pipes running through cabinets or walls can freeze, too, as we mentioned. However, no worry, there is an even more straightforward quick fix for questionable freeze zone pipes.

Just allow the faucet to drip; yes, cracking open a tap enables water to leave before the pressure increases to where a pipeline can break. If the water slows in dripping, it may mean that ice is forming inside the pipes. At that time, you should crack it just a little more.

A study shows that burst pipes are among the most expensive property damage cases throughout the freezing weather months. A busted pipe can cause thousands in water damage. So leaving your faucet dripping overnight while you sleep can be a lifesaver or at least a wallet saver!

Close Exterior Doors; Garages, Pet Doors

Every winter, and summer for that matter, I educate family members on how important it is to keep our doors closed. People don’t think of this always because a garage for example, is usually not heated. Still, there may be water pipes in the garage or running in the garage walls for a nearby half bath?

Every corner of the house that might be a passage for cold air should be kept closed and sealed. It is another inexpensive way to keep a house warm and pipes from freezing.

Ensure the closing of exterior doors (garage doors are a big one) and even sealing your pet doors, for example. This can prevent a lot of cold on severe cold nights and days from penetrating your domain.

Disconnect Hoses from Outdoor Faucets & Bibcocks

Before the cold spell hits, I shut off and drain the water system outside. I disconnect garden hoses and drain them. If you have an indoor valve to shut off and drain your exterior water faucets.

You should shut off the water supply leading outside, go back outside, turn on the faucet, then go back inside and open up the drain plug. Once empty, go back out and close the outdoor faucet.

On severe cold spells, the metal construction of the outside faucet can radiate the heat out and allow the cold to sneak in on the metal pipes. Even frostless spigots with the valve that shuts the water off reaching inside the warm home can radiate and allow the cold into the pipes, possibly freezing them.

You can use a cardboard box or two to cover the outdoor hose bibcock. I am fine with a brown box hanging on the outside for all the neighbors to see, but my wife is not.

An excellent solution to appease a spouse is to get those little foam covers. With a foam cover, it will reduce this risk of freezing even for all winter. It is easy to attach and remove. Here is one we like.  I haven’t tried this Velcro bag style, it seems straight forward and easier to use, check it out here

Water hoses should be detached from the faucet bibcock outdoors and stored inside during the winter. This will help to prevent water from freezing and expanding the hose, causing premature stress and failure.

Open Up the Crawl Space Door If it is Inside

Crawl space is becoming a general economic solution to avoid full basements. Generally, this would only apply to sudden unusual cold spells in areas not usual to the very cold.

If your crawl space was an add-on leading to your basement, you could open the crawl space under the addition to allow the heat into the crawl space. Of course, all this depends on if you have pipes out there. This is a specific solution only applicable to some readers and how your home may have been constructed.

I am specifically thinking of a friend that had a wing that had footers to his full basement. He opened up his crawl space door, and because of freezing temperatures, the frost line was down, so it was freezing.

When he opened the door, it allowed the cold to fall into his basement, and the warmer air of the basement went out into the crawl space. Once the temperature went back to normal, he closed the crawl space door and went back to normal.

Keep Thermostats at the Same Temperature Setting

Nowadays, many of us have smart thermostats. They are usually set to reduce the home’s temperature while we are away at work and when we sleep. This is to help save money, of course.

By utilizing some of the other tips mentioned here, you may not need to play with your thermostat. However, when it is frigid out, keeping your house warm while you are away and or asleep is a simple fix.

You can also pull the curtains to let the sunlight pass through the windows on the south-facing side of the house. Doing this while at work, then closing the curtains when you get home.

You may need to get up 5 minutes earlier or skip Starbucks on those mornings to give yourself time? Just make sure that all windows are sealed before leaving.

Add Heat to the Cold Area

I personally keep my house warmth set on my thermostat to the same temperature throughout day and night.  It may sound a little costly, but it can help prevent pipes from freezing and bursting.

If you plan on traveling during the winter season, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F. with cabinet doors open under the sinks.

You can also apply heat to the pipe section using an electric heating pad wrapped around the tube or a portable space heater.

This tip can be dangerous. DO NOT use open flame heaters, especially while away. Heaters like a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame devices can start fires. Always remember safety first!

Set Up Fans to Blow Heat Toward Hard To Reach Areas

If you want to supplement heat, you can append a space heater to a room where pipes might be at risk of possible freezing though, using space heaters does add the risk of fire to your home. We do not condone using auxiliary heat while away or sleeping.

While awake, using a heater to stay toasty is fine. If used in a bathroom, ensure it is secured into an outlet with a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) and deter from using an extension cord.

However, you really need a space heater while away. For hard-to-reach areas, I suggest a fan. You may not want to sit in the room in the middle of winter with a fan blowing on you but running a fan while away at work makes sense and costs less.

A fan will blow the warm air in and push the cold air out of the hard-to-reach areas.

Apply Heating Cable (heating tape)

Heating cables or heat tape can protect your pipes from freezing during cold weather. If it is easy to access your pipes in the question of freezing, then applying a heating cable will be a pretty simple task.

Heat cables, also known as heat tape, are basically a low-temperature output electric heater. Most of these cables include a self-regulating thermostat built into the cable that turns on around 35- 40 degrees F (2-4C).

Heating cables are safe for plastic and metal pipes. Also, they last a long time. I have one that is 26 years old this year and still works fine. The Brand I used was Frost King; check out the Frost King brand available at Amazon.

Installation is easy compared to some things. You unroll the heating cable. With the heat side against the pipe, you would run it along the pipe adhering it with adhesive tape (sometimes supplied with the cable). You also can use black electrical tape to hold the cable against the pipe.

Tape every 2 or 3 feet at first, then go back and secure it like every 6 or 8 inches. Just in case you need to adjust it. Heat tapes do come in different lengths for your different runs of exposed pipe that could freeze this winter. Check out what is available on Amazon by clicking here.

It is best to get the length of heat tape closest to your exposed length of pipe in question. Longer is better, though, because you can wrap the excess cable around the pipe like a candy cane stripe or slightly wrap the shut-offs with the excess.

Often people leave these shut-off handles exposed for emergency shut-off access. The extra heat at that point would help from thermal transfer and the possibility of freezing.

You see, the problem is when it is really cold (according to physics, this is) that the exposed shut-off valve can pull the heat out of the pipe, thus reducing the temperature in the pipe that could allow for freezing if it pulls enough.

For us non-science majors, the exposed area will allow the cold into the pipe. It is a good practice to wrap your heat tape and pipe with insulation. Check out the insulation I recommend for wrapping heat tape.

Insulate the Pipes in Question

If you are insulating the “heat tape,” I would recommend the little spool of fiberglass with the aluminum face. You just wrap everything and tape the ends or questionable gaps, and you are done.

The aluminum face helps protect and mold the shape as you wrap. Regular tiny rolls of fiberglass usually come with a plastic ribbon (like a Police Do Not Cross Tape) that can be wrapped around the unfaced insulation to protect and form it to your pipes.

If you did not apply heating cables, you could get the split foam insulation tubes for your size pipes. They come in different lengths and can be cut to length with a knife or scissors.

The principle here is, if your water comes into your house unfroze, then wrapping it in a blanket will keep the cold out.

Here are the recommended supplies to check out again.

Heat Tape

Insulations for heat tape

Split foam insulation for pipes

Seal Cracks and Holes

A quick solution to keep it warmer inside on the sudden cold snaps is to take a bath towel or hand towel and roll it up at the drafty doors and windows. This is a temporary solution for single-digit nights.

They also make door seals and socks. You can check out all that is available nowadays.

I have found that homemade ones, a long, small sock filled with rice or beans, work better than the manufactured ones.

Before the winter comes, I do a spot check around my exterior walls, windows, and doors. Feel for drafts inside, and etc. Going around and sealing everything to avoid cold air passing through the holes and cracks.

This practice not only can help your pipes in questionable spots but saves all year with heating and air-conditioning. I always make sure that nothing is left uncovered to keep my pipes from freezing and bursting.

Cracks and holes are something you should pay attention to. Taking the time to do this will mean you may actually save some money to help pay off those Christmas bills.

Add Long Term Insulation, It Helps Save Air Conditioning Too

Frozen pipes are a huge concern for people who live in a cold and snowy region. It has been my problem before, and I searched for a long-term solution to address this problem. We talked about sealing cracks, drafts, and etc. Another long-term solution is insulating the areas in question.

There are various types of pipe insulation available in the market, and we touched on it above. I mean the walls or floors where the pipes run. Taking some foam board to the back wall under the kitchen sink is an example that can drastically reduce the cold penetrating under the sink.

The same goes for the garage. Open up your drywall and insert fiberglass insulation, but if you don’t feel like starting an episode of “This Old House,” you can take some foam board and maybe put pegboard over the top and organize some tools.

Having long-term insulation to your area around your pipes can save you a lot of money and effort. Insulation can help keep a pipe closer to the temperature of the water inside the pipe.

Insulation does not add heat to the tube and will not prevent freezing if the pipe is exposed to prolonged freezing temperatures.

Need More?

There you have the 12 tips and tricks, I know some were obvious, but some may be little of a  “ah-ha” moments.

If you need more about freezing pipes, check out this article on Signs Your Pipes Are About To Freeze. It could save you very much hassle down the road.

Will Montgomery

Will Montgomery: Electro-Mechanical Engineer, Serial Entrepreneur, and Real Estate Enthusiast. Met David at Penn State, where he earned a BS in Electro-Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Business. Expertly manages capital equipment manufacturing, refurbishing, and repair businesses, while exploring opportunities in real estate and advocating for practical heating solutions.

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