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CityLink Seattle

Cold Weather Burst Your Pipes?

With last week’s cold snap bringing below-freezing temperatures, pipes and fixtures around the home were subjected to extreme conditions, and may have been compromised.

When water freezes, it expands and can burst water pipes, potentially causing serious property damage and wasting large amounts of water.

While burst pipes are usually easy to spot, smaller breaks and leaks often go unnoticed. But even small breaks can add up to a big utility bill.

Because they are outside, outdoor faucets are more susceptible to harsh weather, so start by checking your outdoor faucets for leaks. Make sure your faucet isn’t dripping – a paper towel will quickly show you even the smallest leak – and if you can access the pipe that feeds the faucet, inspect it for any leaks.

If you have an outdoor irrigation system, check your sprinkler heads for any signs of leaks, and look for unusually damp sections of your garden which may point to an underground leak.  If you are unsure about how to do this, contact your irrigation specialist.

If your basement, crawlspace or garage isn’t heated, your water pipes were probably subjected to freezing temperatures too. Take some time to check these pipes and look for tell-tale signs of leaks, such as wet spots or puddles on the ground.

The pipes for tankless water heater are also susceptible to freezing weather, particularly if they run along the exterior of your house. Inspect these pipes for any sign of leaks.

And lastly, check any indoor sink pipes that are against exterior walls. These are also susceptible to freezing weather and may have been compromised.

If you haven’t done so already, follow these steps to prepare your water pipes for winter weather:

  • Protect water pipes from freezing in exposed or unheated areas (attics, basements and garages) by wrapping with tape and insulating materials from hardware stores, following the manufacturers’ installation instructions. Don’t forget tankless water heaters.
  • Drain and remove all outdoor hoses.
  • Caulk around pipes where they enter the house and close all foundation vents to minimize cold wind from blowing into your house.
  • Pipes exposed to drafts from open foundation vents are most at risk of freezing or splitting during cold weather. Close off these vents by sliding cut pieces of wood or styrofoam into the vent openings (open the vents again in the spring to prevent dry rot).
  • If you have a separate shut-off valve for outside faucets, now is the time to shut it off. Then go outside and turn on all faucets to drain the water out of the pipes.
  • If you don’t have a separate shut-off valve, wrap outside faucets or hose bibs (if you choose, foam insulated covers are available for about $3 at hardware stores).
  • Shut off and drain in-ground sprinkler systems, following manufacturer instruction.

For more information on finding and fixing leaks and step-by-step videos, visit www.savingwater.org.