Extreme Cold Coming to Houston – Protect Your Pipes Now!
Part of the Arctic Vortex is pushing southward deep into heart of Texas. And if you’ve seen the local news, you know that Houston faces frigid Monday lows of 16°F! Not only will most folks get higher electric bills, but many homes could freeze their water pipes. Add in expensive plumbing repairs and many homeowners could pay thousands for what they could easily –and cheaply– avoid.
At What Temperature Will Your Water Pipes Freeze?
Usually, south Texas climate is mild year round. Consequently, south Texas cities and towns only bury water lines about 18 inches below ground surface In some areas, building codes allow water lines to emerge from blow ground up to 6 feet away from the home. According to TMU’s Agrilife Extension water pipes like this will likely freeze up when the surrounding temperature hits 20°F. When ice froms, it expands. Inside a pipe, ice happily expands straight down the length of the pipe until it hits an obstacle, like valve or a bend. That’s where pipes usually crack or burst.
What Water Pipes Are At Risk Of Freezing?
Freezing affects all kind of pipes; copper, galvanized, and pvc. And any pipe that is exposed to temperatures below 20°F for several hours at a stretch run the risk of freezing. This includes:
- Crawlspaces — In Texas, plumbing is usually routed through these drafty and un-insulated spaces. Extreme cold puts pipes in this space at risk of freezing.
- Attics – Many Texas homes have water heaters in their attics. Most attic insulation protects the living space below but doesn’t help cover the water heater and plumbing. Not only does this arrangement make the home less energy efficient but it also runs the risk of serious water damage if their pipes burst.
- Kitchen – Older Texas homes don’t usually have well-insulated walls. Consequently, not only does the homeowner face paying above normal electricity usage, but also that their pipes in the walls under kitchen sinks are at risk of freezing.
Plumbing fixtures like hose bibs, spigots, pool pumps, water heaters, and sprinkling systems will also crack and burst in cold weather. These should be properly insulated or drained or both.
Do Water Pipes Always Burst If They Freeze?
Just because pipes can freeze it doesn’t always mean that they will burst. But, freezing can weaken pipes by stretching the walls of the pipe. It might not fail now but it could eventually. Then you’re looking at a repair bill.
Lots of homeowners just go with the short term fix. They turn on a faucet to let water trickle out. As long as the water moves, then ice usually won’t build up to burst the pipe. Of course, you also wind up paying for all that trickling water going down your drain. Unfortunately, if it get cold enough, more ice may form in the pipe and lead to cracking.
What Is The Best Way To Keep Water Pipes From Freezing?
Foam pipe insulation is super cheap, and quick and easy to apply. Plus, once you’re finished you don’t need to worry about it again. Foam pipe insulation comes in 1/2″ or 3/4″ diameters, is available in 3 to 5 feet lengths, is easy to cut to length with a pair of scissors, and has slit down the middle so you can slip it around a pipe. You can use vinyl “duct” tape to hold it in place or buy the very convenient foam insulation with the built in adhesive strip.
Install by going to where the water line comes out of the ground. Dig down 3 to 4 inches all around the pipe. Next, wrap a length of the foam pipe insulation over the pipe and secure it in place with tape (or press the pre-adhesive sides together), closing over any gaps. Then, keep adding on sections of insulation until you reach the side of your home.
If the pipe enters a wall in the living space of your home, then you’re done. But if the pipe continues into a crawlspace, then you need to get inside and keep adding sections until the pipe actually enters your home’s living space.
How Do I Protect My Sprinkler System From a Freeze?
Many Houston homes typical connect their outside water lines directly to their sprinkler systems. And during extreme winter cold, ice formation can warp the diaphragm in pressure vacuum breaker (PVB) valve so that it no longer seals. While PVB valves can be expensive to repair or replace, it’s cheap and very easy to prevent the damage from happening.
- Turn off the back-flow valve (if applicable).
- Shut off the water supply valve to the PVB valve.
- Open siphon or bleeder valves to allow water to completely drain from the PVB valve. Allows these to remain open so any water can get out.
- Wrap a towel around the valve to insulate it. Cover it with plastic bag to keep out dust.
Houston Weather Keeps Changing
While Houston residents should seriously prepare for this arctic blast that may freeze your water pipes, remember that the weather is changing. Spring is only a few weeks away and that means Texas electric rates may dip briefly. And with electricity prices expected to beginning climbing this summer, spring time may be the best time to shop cheap fixed rate electricity for your home.
Houston weather can sure be expensive. Let us help keep you informed so you can keep more of what your earn!