Prepper Diary December 26: Bitterly Cold Weather Brings Frozen Pipe Concerns

faucet Dripping
By letting your faucets drip during bitterly cold weather, you can help prevent your pipes from freezing.

It’s c-c-c-cold out there!  Snow continued through Christmas Day as the wind increased and temperatures dropped.

As I write this late on Christmas night, our thermometer says it is 8 degrees F.  The local weather predicts an overnight low of 2 degrees with a wind chill in the negative teens.  Its a good time to be indoors by the fire!

In our unheated garage, which is attached to the house, it is 46 degrees.  In the spare bedroom, which we had closed off, it is almost 50 degrees.   (We opened the door to let it warm up.)  In the master bath, which has two outide walls, its 54.

In the main part of the house, the fireplace insert is struggling to keep the temperature at 68 degrees.  I have to keep reminding myself that in our old house, 68 was what we turned the thermometer to when we wanted it to warm up, and we slept with our bedroom at 62. 

In the basement, home of my man cave and the wood stove, the stove pipe thermometer read 350 degrees, but it is just 70 degrees in the room.  Still, when you come down stairs, you can feel the warm air rising up the stairwell. 

I am not concerned about getting cold.  We have our down-filled duvet and we’re both well equipped with thermal underwear, wool socks, and warm boots, should they become necessary.  My main concern is frozen pipes.

The Danger of Frozen Pipes

The house was empty last winter because the prior owner had moved out.  He turned off the water and drained the water from the pipes in the house.  Nevertheless, two things froze.

First, the supply pipe bringing water to the house froze before the shut-off valve.  He fixed this before the house closed. Second, one of the plastic pipes carrying water to the ice maker in the refrigerator froze because it had not been drained. We had to fix that.

I have no fear of the tubes serving the refrigerator because the house will remain well above freezing, but that does not mean that another pipe might freeze.  Even though we have PEX piping, which came withstand freezing better than copper or PVC, it’s not impervious to freezing.  I’d rather be safe than sorry, especially if sorry means a small flood.

Twice I have experienced frozen pipes.  Years ago, it was in a rental house, and copper pipes running along an outside wall froze, splitting and leaking water.  The landlord fixed it and asked us to open the cabinet under the sink when it got cold. 

The second time was just a few years ago when it was in single digits for so many days in a row that the well head froze.  We were not alone in this; half the neighborhood was without water as their wells froze as well.  I cured this with a long extension code, wrapping an electric heating pad around the well head and setting it on high.  We had the water back in just a few hours.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

The suggestion of opening cabinets that house sinks and pipes is not a bad one, especially if the pipes are on the outside wall of your house.  On many a bitterly cold night I have taken my old landlord’s advice and opened the cabinets to let the heated air move among the pipes.  Any cold that seeps in from a poorly insulated wall will blend with the warmer air in the room and dissipate. Our sink pipes haven’t frozen since.

One of the first things I did this fall before we moved in was to wrap the pipe that froze last year in an electric heat tape and cover it in fiberglass insulation.  This tape has its own thermostat and when the temperature falls below freezing it kicks in, generating warmth through the tape that should keep the pipe from freezing.  The manufacturer claims this will prevent piles from freezing when it is -40.  (I have no desire to be the guy who proves that wrong.)  In any case, it does give us an advantage over how things were last year.

Letting a Faucet Drip

Keepign the water flowing will also prevent it from freezing.

Let’s assume that the ground temperature water is 52 degrees.  That means it has to drop 20 degrees to freeze.  When you run the water, the cold water leaves the area where it was about to freeze and new 52-degree water enters the pipe.  This not only warms up the pipe, but the freezing process has to start all over again.  While I am awake, I address this by simply flushing a toilet every half hour or 45 minutes which, with modern toilets, uses 1.6 gallons of water.  I go to a different bathroom each time, just to keep the water moving throughout the house.   Every few hours, I run water in the one sink and the one showers that has pipes along the exterior wall.

I also removed about half the ice from the ice maker in our refrigerator and set it to the “max ice” setting.  This should make 10 ice cubes every 45 or so minutes, adding new water to the ice maker every time it makes a new set of cubes.  That’s less water than flushing a toilet, but it should keep the water moving and help prevent freezing.

The final time-proven technique that anyone can use to help prevent frozen pipes it to leave a faucet open so that it slowly drips.  Because moving water will not freeze, this should prevent the pipes from freezing.  It also relives the pressure on the pipe, should ice begin to form.  I’m planning to do that before I go to bed.

Keeping the House Warm at Night

One of the best things you can do to prevent a frozen pipe is keep the house warm.

Outside of loading the stove and the fireplace insert up with enough wood to last while I sleep, I’m not sure there’s anything else we can do.  It will also be interesting to see how many times a year we have sub-zero nighttime temperatures.

As my neighbor says, “That’s mountain living.”