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Originally published Friday, December 20, 2013 at 8:02 PM

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Take steps to prevent frozen pipes | HomeWork

Frozen pipes may mean good business for plumbers, but it’s bad news for homeowners. Now’s the time to prepare for the next cold snap, if you haven’t already.

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Q: How can I prevent my pipes from freezing?

A: Our recent arctic blast has kept local plumbers busy with frozen and bursting pipes.

Odds are it won’t be the only time this fall/winter when homeowners could face the inconvenience and expense of frozen pipes. But there are ways to minimize the danger and safely thaw your pipes if they do freeze.

Water’s unique property is that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever contains the water, including metal or plastic pipes. Expanding water can cause pipes to break.

And as you might expect, the pipes that are most apt to freeze are those exposed to severe cold, such as outdoor hose bibs, swimming-pool supply lines, lawn-sprinkler lines, and water-supply pipes in unheated interior areas such as basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages and kitchen cabinets.

Pipes that run against exterior walls with little or no insulation are also vulnerable to freezing.

To prevent frozen pipes, drain water from the supply lines for swimming pools and lawn sprinklers by following the manufacturers’ directions. Never put antifreeze in these lines unless it is recommended by the manufacturer.

Remove, drain and store any hoses that are used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying the outdoor hose bibs. Then open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain.

Check around your home for other areas where water-supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot- and cold-water pipes in these areas should be insulated.

Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes such as pipe sleeves or UL-listed heat tape in exposed or vulnerable areas. Newspaper can also be effective. Even a quarter-inch of newspaper wrapped around a pipe can provide significant protection.

Next time the temperatures plummet, keep your garage doors closed, especially if you have water-supply lines in the garage.

It’s also a good idea to open your kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors, which allows the warmer air in your house to circulate around the plumbing. But be sure to remove any harmful cleaners or household chemicals that might intrigue small children or pets.

Seattle-area residents are known for their dedication to sustainability.

But if the temperatures are well below freezing, let the water drip from any faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe — even at just a trickle — helps to prevent pipes from freezing.

Keep your thermostat set to the same temperature day and night. It may raise your heating bill slightly, but it will cost a lot less than an expensive plumbing bill or water damage from a burst pipe.

This also applies if you are going away during a cold snap. Keep your heat set to at least 55 degrees while you are gone.

HomeWork is the weekly column by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ Remodelers Council about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to


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