Extreme Cold and Plumbing

Get Ready for Extreme Weather: Week 6

Extreme Cold and Plumbing

car in snow

Power outages in extreme cold can cause water in your home’s pipes to freeze. This can ruin your home when it thaws.

It takes a while for a home to freeze. You may get the heat or electric problem resolved before it happens, but just in case, here are some things you should know to protect your home.

Transition Longfellow folks are not experts so we are sharing information we’ve found online and gotten from knowledgeable people in the community. We encourage you to take time this weekend to learn more about this topic, to locate valves and plumbing in your own home.

Prepare Your Plumbing for Cold

32 degrees is freezing. If your home gets to 38 degrees, you may want to start preparing for a possible freeze. The pipes in exterior walls may be colder and could freeze earlier.

  • Shut off the main water valve, THEN turn on faucets and allow a small flow from both the hot and cold pipes in order to drain water from the system.
  • Turn off the valves to toilets at the base (behind the toilet) and then flush the toilets to get all the water out. Remove any remaining water with a towel.
  • Do you have a sump pump? Be sure the well is dry.
  • Call a plumber, just in case, to see how quickly you can get emergency help.

If temperatures continue to go down in the house, take the same steps you would take to close up a cabin for winter. See this article from the TV show “That Old House.”

  • Have on hand a non-toxic RV antifreeze (other sources say you can use a salt mixture with 1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of water).
  • Put 1/3 to 1/2 gallon (5 to 8 cups) of a salt mixture or RV antifreeze down the toilet bowl.
  • Pour 2 cups in each sink and bath/shower drain.
  • Don’t forget the dishwasher and washing machine. According to “This Old House,” you can run your dishwasher dry and then put 5 cups of antifreeze in it and run it for part of a cycle to circulate it. Do the same for your washing machine.
  • IF YOUR WATER HEATER IS ELECTRIC AND YOU HAVE LOST ELECTRICITY – OR GAS AND YOUR GAS HAS BEEN SHUT OFF: Hot water will stay hot for a good while, but eventually, it will freeze, so this advice is only relevant if you will be abandoning your house for days.
    • On the water tank, there is a plastic circular handle on the bottom. This is the drain valve. Hook a garden hose up to it. Run the hose outdoors or to a floor drain. Turn the circular handle at the bottom of the water heater to the left to open the water flow and allow the water to drain. Close this valve once the water is drained.
    • Write on a piece of tape, “do not turn on until hot water tank is full.” Go to the circuit breaker panel, turn off the hot water heater circuit switch. Place tape with a message over the switch on the circuit breaker panel.
    • Once power is restored, slowly establish water flow to both cold and hot water faucets and water heater.
    • Once there is water flow, go to the circuit breaker panel, remove the tape message and turn on breakers to the hot water tank.
  • RADIATORS: Call a plumber about removing water from your radiator/boiler system. To fully drain your system, you may need compressed air.
  • IN-FLOOR HEATING: Take a look at your owner’s manual and be prepared to call a plumber if you think you will need help.

If Your Pipes Have Frozen

  • Shut off the main water valve.
  • Open cabinets if your pipes are located inside cabinets. (If your pipes are in an outside wall you may be able to open the wall and put a heater in the room (if you have electricity).
  • Completely open all the faucets.
  • If you can still heat water, pour hot water down the pipes.
  • You can try to warm the pipes with a blow dryer if you have access to power.

If Your Pipes Have Burst

  • Shut off the main water valve if you can do so safely.
  • REMEMBER, never enter a flooded basement or walk through standing water to shut off the power. Water conducts electricity!
  • Contact the plumber you identified last week, the one whose number is on your emergency call list.
This email series is brought to you by neighborhood volunteers at Transition Longfellow. It is designed to help you become more prepared for extreme weather emergencies. Transition Longfellow does not endorse or recommend any of the products mentioned in this email series. Neither Transition Longfellow nor Transition Twin Cities receives any compensation for products mentioned on their websites. Products are mentioned for illustration purposes only.