When it’s extremely cold outside, it’s very common to experience damage caused by frozen water pipes.
When the outside temperature drops substantially, the water main coming into your home can actually freeze and burst. In most homes, the water main is buried and enters your home below grade. However, the depth that the water main is buried underground typically diminishes as the pipe gets closer to your home. While the ground does act as an insulating barrier against the cold, when the outside air temperature stays very cold for a prolonged period of time the cold can still penetrate below grade and freeze the water main coming into your home. Because water expands when it freezes, this can cause the water main to burst. Since the water main is often at it shallowest point (below grade) at the point where it comes into your home, this natural weak point is the place where the water main is most likely to freeze and burst. If this happens next to your home’s foundation, the running water can easily work its way through your foundation and into your home.
The easiest way to protect your home against damage caused by frozen pipes is to leave the water running at a low level during periods of prolonged cold. Since running water does not freeze as easily as non-moving water, doing this will allow the water to continuously move through the water main – minimizing the possibility of the pipe freezing and bursting.
If you have any water pipes located behind exterior walls (walls that separate the inside of your home from the outside of your home) and these walls are poorly insulated, the water pipes located behind these walls can also freeze during prolonged cold periods. If you suspect that this is the case in one or more of your walls, you can employ the same strategy as above. For example, if you suspect that an outside wall containing water pipes to an upstairs bathroom is poorly insulated, turn both the cold and hot water taps on at a low flow level. The water moving constantly through the pipes will make it much more difficult for the pipes to freeze behind the wall.
If you live in an area where prolonged periods of very cold temperatures are common, you may want to consider having the part of the water main closest to your home wrapped in foam insulation, or even with a heating element. This can also be done with water pipes that are located behind exterior walls. While this is a more expensive solution, it is much less expensive than having to deal with the consequences of a broken water pipe.
Poor insulation is one reason why many homes get chilly in the winter, but it’s also very common to see cold air entering the home through small gaps in windows and doors.
On drafty windows, you can place plastic weather stripping tape over the gap where the window frame and the interior molding meet. This tape should also be placed over the gap where the window meets the exterior of the home. Placing the tape on both the inside and outside of the drafty window creates a temperature buffer zone (similar to how double-pane glass windows work) which is much more effective than placing the tape on only one side of the window.
If you live in an older home and have very drafty windows, you may want to consider removing the molding around the drafty windows on the inside of your home, and adding extra insulation between the space where the window frame sits in the house frame (inside the wall). Even newer homes or homes which have had new windows installed sometimes suffer from poorly insulated windows. Unfortunately, some contractors fail to adequately insulate the space between where the window frame and the house frame meet – and many contractors don’t even insulate this area at all.
Draft stoppers are an easy and inexpensive solution to drafty doors – you can purchase them at hardware stores or online, and simply place them along the bottom of the door. However, doors are also vulnerable to the same points of insulation weakness as windows. If you find that cold air is coming in around the interior molding surrounding an outside door, this typically means that the area between the door frame and the house frame is not well insulated. In this case, remove the decorative molding around the door inside your home and stuff additional insulation between the door frame and the house frame.
Once you have replaced the interior molding around a window or door, be sure to caulk the space where the molding touches against the interior wall. Vinyl caulk is a great choice as it comes in many different colors and can be painted to match your home.