What Plumbing Maintenance Should I Do Every Winter?

January 8, 2024

The change of seasons always offers a good reminder that we need to do some annual maintenance around the house, giving some greatly-needed attention to the various systems we rely on for both comfort and practicality. When winter brings its cold air and frequent precipitation, don’t hesitate: This is an ideal time to make sure everything is okay with your plumbing, so you can avoid the destructive and costly problem of frozen pipes.

Why Frozen Pipes Are Such a Problem

We all understand that when water gets really cold, it freezes. But what happens when the water that’s freezing up is inside pipes running through your house? If your pipes are running through an area that is exposed to too much cold air (such as through your attic or basement) or if they are in a property that’s currently not occupied (such as a vacation home), you might have a problem.

That’s because when water freezes, it undergoes expansion. This expansion can create significant pressure inside the confined space of a pipe. This pressure buildup can reach levels that the pipe is not designed to withstand. When that happens, the pipe ruptures or bursts.

Although there is often a block of ice that causes the breakage, that doesn’t mean all the water in the pipe has reached a freezing point. This water then comes out of the pipe into the surrounding area. In some cases, this amount of water is substantial and causes serious damage to your home—your walls, your ceilings, your floors, and all your belongings. If the flooding sits for a long period of time (for example, if this burst pipe happens in a vacation home that you aren’t occupying for the season), this can cause structural issues or mold growth.

Frozen pipes aren’t uncommon. As we stated, pipes most susceptible to freezing and bursting are those exposed to extreme cold, such as outdoor pipes, pipes in unheated areas like basements and crawl spaces, and pipes with inadequate insulation. It's a common winter plumbing issue in regions with cold climates.

Preventing pipes from freezing involves insulating them, maintaining adequate heating in the building, and taking precautions such as draining outdoor hoses and shutting off water to outdoor faucets in cold weather. If you suspect a frozen pipe or experience reduced water flow during winter, it's crucial to address the issue promptly to prevent bursting and minimize potential damage.

What Should I Do If One Of My Pipes Breaks?

Maybe you have a pipe that you should have insulated but somehow overlooked. Or you have a vacation home in a cold climate where the power went out for an extended period of time. If you do end up with a broken pipe, start by locating and turning off the main water valve to stop the flow of water. This valve is usually located near the water meter or where the main water line enters your home. Turning it clockwise will shut off the water supply.

Next, open all faucets in the affected area to drain the remaining water from the pipes. This will help reduce pressure and further water damage. If the burst pipe is related to a heating system, such as a radiator, turn off the heating to prevent additional water from circulating.

Unfortunately, there may be a risk of electrical hazards due to water exposure. In that case, turn off the electricity to the affected area or the entire house. Do not touch electrical appliances or outlets if you are standing in water. If water has come into contact with electrical appliances or outlets, avoid using them. If necessary, contact a qualified electrician to assess and address any electrical issues.

Your next goal will be to remediate the problem. You’ll need to use towels, buckets, and a wet vac to start removing water and preventing it from spreading to other areas of your home. You should also call a licensed plumber to assess the situation, locate the burst pipe, and make necessary repairs. If you're unable to find the burst pipe, a professional plumber can identify and address the issue.

Are There Other Maintenance Projects I Should Undertake in Winter?

Insulating exposed pipes in your basement, attic, and crawl spaces is one maintenance project you may want to tackle, as these frozen pipes are the most common problem you can run into. But they are hardly the only project.

If you’re winterizing your home, you should also disconnect garden hoses from outdoor faucets and drain them. Store your hoses indoors to prevent freezing and damage. Additionally, you should turn off the water supply to outdoor faucets. Drain any remaining water to prevent freezing and potential pipe bursts.

Although you use hot water throughout the year, you may end up using it more often during the cold months. In that case, winter is a good time to service your water heater by flushing it to remove sediment buildup, something that will improve its efficiency and prolong its lifespan.

By taking these preventive measures, you can reduce the risk of frozen pipes and other winter-related plumbing issues. If you're unsure about any specific maintenance tasks, or if you encounter plumbing problems, it's advisable to consult with a professional plumber for guidance and assistance. 

Our team at Donovan Waterworks is happy to assist you—reach out to us today by calling 410-240-5299.

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