As a homeowner, it is critical to understand how to keep outdoor water pipes from freezing and what may cause issues outside of freezing temperatures.
Regardless of where you live, quick temperature drops and sustained cold weather can happen. This cold air will affect any exposed pipe that has a lack of insulation. Even having your thermostat set too low can impact your system, especially water supply lines.
Frozen pipes can lead to interruptions, water damage, and other serious issues.
Here is what you need to know about winterizing your home, taking care of your home, and avoiding frozen pipes.
What's In This Guide?
What You Need To Know About Outdoor Frozen Pipes
Your first step in avoiding frozen water pipes, or worse, a burst pipe, is to understand where your pipes are located and what measures you can take to insulate them.
Identify Your Incoming Cold Water Pipes
In every home, water supply pipes are located throughout your home including your slab, basement, attic, or crawl space. This will vary based on where your home is located, and your plumbing system.
It goes without saying that you need to keep outdoor water pipes from freezing temps. However, sometimes people experience a pipe burst when indoor pipes are located in an unheated area.
It’s a good rule of thumb, even if you don’t live in freezing conditions, to insulate pipes exposed to colder air with pipe insulation or heating tape. Although these pipes are located inside your home, sealing pipes from the inside out will help to prevent water damage to your home when they are located in an unheated area.
Where Can you Find These Pipes?
Examine where water makes its way into your home. Here are some suggestions…
Additional frozen pipes sometimes occur under a sink or vanity that rests on an outside wall. This is especially true in warmer climate areas where home insulation R-values aren’t as strict. If you’re expecting an upcoming freezing temperature, you can open the cabinets leading to these pipes at night. This will allow warmer air to flow and circulate to this unheated area. This simple trick can prevent pipes from freezing.
Pipes are also located in outdoor areas as they make their way into your home. You can find water pipes along an outside wall and by an outdoor faucet(also called a hose bib). If you are on city water, also look for exposed pipe near your water meter.
It is also smart to seal cracks inside your home and near plumbing that may let in cold air. Be sure to check the areas where outdoor pipes run from outside of the house to inside, specifically near an outside wall or where they join other plumbing water pipes.
Here is a great video on protecting pipes from freezing:
How Do You Keep Outdoor Water Pipes From Freezing?
The best way to prevent outdoor water pipes from freezing is to start what is called a ‘drip’ to continue to move water through your pipes at a slow pace. The ‘drip’ is just a slow stream of water (both hot and cold) that keeps liquid moving through the pipes and avoids water pressure, especially when the pipes are not in regular use.
Why does this work for outdoor pipes? It’s simple. Water is being supplied from the outside, and so this “drip” on the inside keeps water flowing through them. It’s more difficult for a frozen pipe to develop since the colder water is replaced by warmer water, as supplied from your city or well.
Speaking of wells, there will be a number of supply pipes and often an expansion tank. To keep your well pipes from freezing you can do a few things.
Keep Outdoor Water Well Pipes From Freezing
First, the water drip method will apply to your well.
Second, consider adding heat tape to the exposed pipe if it is metal. This is a game-changer, and inexpensive option compared to a burst pipe. We like this one.
Third, you can hang an incandescent light bulb beneath your well cover. Make sure this isn’t touching anything plastic. The extra heat will increase the air temperature, and help prevent it from freezing.
Here is a video demonstrating how to install heating tape on your pipes, along with safety precautions.
You can use an easy-to-use heat cable product like this.
What about outside pipes not supplying water?
To prevent freezing of outdoor pipes not in use, be sure to drain the water, close all of the faucet valves, and add faucet covers, too. You will also want to disconnect your garden hose to prevent freezing inside the hose.
It’s also a good rule of thumb to alert a neighbor or trusted relative/friend to keep watch over your home and periodically check in on an outdoor pipe if you are planning to head out of town and not use your plumbing systems for a few days.
Another way to prevent frozen pipes is to invest in regular plumbing maintenance and learn best practices for winterizing your home to avoid running into issues when temperatures drop.
What Are The Best Methods to Keep Outdoor Hose Bibs From Freezing?
Your hose bib, or outside faucet, is a faucet located on the exterior of your home. Typically attached to an outdoor hose, the hose bib helps you run water from the inside to the outside.
In colder temperatures, your house bibs can freeze if they are not rated frost-free. This is why taking preventative measures, like insulating your pipes, keeping your indoor temperature neutral, and keeping a ‘drip’ on your water line, is important to prevent freezing.
The quick and easy approach to protecting these spigots is using an insulated faucet cover. They are inexpensive and can protect you from an outdoor pipe burst. See this post where we review all of your top options. You can also replace the faucet itself with one rated for freezing temperatures.
Supplies You’ll Need to Keep Outdoor Water Pipes From Freezing
Ok, now that we’ve discussed the things to look for let’s make a plan. Let’s get prepared.
To insulate your outdoor pipes, you’ll need some supplies:
Pen and paper
Crawl suit and/or clothes you can get dirty in
Gloves to protect your hands when working with hot water pipes
Your first step is to survey your house and measure your pipes in order to know how much polyethylene insulation to purchase. (You’ll want to measure the inside diameter of the insulation to the outside diameter of your pipes in order to be sure you are purchasing the right size.)Then, you will want to wrap the exterior pipes with insulation by hand. Once the insulation is secure, you can add additional protection by sealing the insulation with duct tape or cable ties. You can find this reasonably priced on Amazon, or at a local hardware or big box store.
Final Thoughts On Keeping Outdoor Water Pipes From Freezing This Winter
If you find yourself with frozen water pipes, despite preventative measures, you can thaw pipes in the frozen area carefully.
Your first step is to open up the faucet of the impacted water pipe to help reduce the water pressure and create flowing water. (Remember to only have a drip, otherwise, the water flow will be too much!)
For an exposed pipe, typically a water pipe located outdoors, adding a heat source directly (and safely!) will help to thaw the frozen material.
You can do this in several ways: with a heating pad, with a warm towel, with a hairdryer (at a safe distance), or with a space heater (if the thawing is taking place in a garage or area where the warm air can circulate within a space).
If you are using a heating pad or towel, apply the hot water source directly to the freezing pipes and hold it in place for at least a minute before moving to a new frozen area.
You will want to continually replace and re-warm your heat source, especially if you are using a wet towel. This way, you can continue to apply warmth as the pipe thaws.
If you are using a hairdryer, be sure to stay at least one foot back from the source and blow warm air in sections no bigger than 12-16 inches at a time in order to warm effectively. Seriously, be careful.
It’s important to avoid using electrical devices, especially if there is standing water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene heater, propane heater, or any other open flame device as this can boil the water in your pipes and make them explode.
If you find that you are having trouble thawing, adding insulation, or even preventing your pipes from freezing, be sure to contact a plumbing expert to get your questions answered.
FAQs on Outdoor Frozen Pipes
How to insulate outdoor water pipes?
You can insulate your outdoor water pipes with polyethylene insulation applied to the pipes directly and by hand.
It is best to insulate before colder temperatures as a preventative measure.
How to keep outdoor water pipes from freezing DIY?
You can easily insulate your water pipes by hand using insulation and a water ‘drip.’ It is also a good idea to periodically check (or have someone else check) on your pipes to ensure that water is still moving and there are no areas that need to be thawed.
How much water should drip to keep pipes from freezing?
To keep your water pipes from freezing, the best method is to ‘drip’ water through them to keep the water supply consistent. It is best to only turn your hot and cold faucets on slightly to allow the smallest amount of water through the water line.
The amount of water that should move through the pipes should be so minimal it literally ‘drips.’ Otherwise, the water pressure is too much.
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About Plumbing Navigator
We write about "all things plumbing," helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.
About Plumbing Navigator
We write about “all things plumbing,” helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.