Prevent pipes from freezing — without causing new problems

WASHINGTON — Working to prevent or deal with frozen water pipes can cause more problems than you might realize.

To keep pipes from freezing, some folks might open doors of kitchen or bathroom cabinets that are near exterior walls.

“One warning I will give you for that is — if you have young children, you definitely want to remove harmful chemicals or cleaners from the cabinets,” says Loudoun County Firefighter Laura Rinehart.

Dealing with frozen pipes can cause fire hazards.

“You can try on your own to warm the pipe using an electric heating pad, a hair dryer or maybe a space heater. But, if you’re using a space heater, make sure to keep it away from anything flammable,” Rinehart warns.

If a frozen pipe bursts and begins spewing water, you’ll need to pay special attention to how high the water rises before you’re able to turn it off.

“We want you to call us [911] if water is in or near electric outlets or panels — if it’s threatening a pilot light, or the power source from your water heater or furnace.”

Doused pilot lights can lead to gas emergencies.

D.C. Water recommends a few steps to help keep your home safe.

To prevent frozen pipes:

• Eliminate sources of cold air near pipes by sealing drafty windows and doors and insulating walls and attics.
• If pipes are exposed to cold air, wrap them with insulation, or even newspaper will help.
• Keep water moving through pipes by turning on the faucet farthest from your main valve to a very small, steady trickle.
• Run warm water through your pipes if you begin to see a decrease in water pressure, to loosen any ice that may be forming within your pipes.
• Keep pipes in cabinets and vanities warmer by opening the doors to those cabinets to let warm air in.

If pipes freeze:

• If you have a frozen pipe, take steps to thaw it to keep it from bursting.
• First, locate and shut off the main water supply valve, in case a pipe has broken.
• Next, open the faucet so that water will flow through the pipe once the area is melted. This will help melt more ice.
• Then, gently apply heat with a hairdryer around the pipe. Keep all sources of heat away from flammable materials and do not use any open-flame devices. Also, do not use devices that will cause the melted ice to boil, as that can also cause pipes to break.
• Call a licensed plumber if you cannot locate the frozen section, if you are unable to reach it or if you are unable to thaw it.
• Check for other frozen pipes in your home or business, especially those along an exterior wall or that bring the water into the building at the foundation.
• Once you have thawed the frozen area, check the pipes for leaks to make sure the ice did not cause any cracks or damage.

For pipes outside your home:

• The service line that runs from the meter outside your home to your indoor plumbing is considered private property and is the owner’s responsibility. If you believe you have a problem on the private-side service line, contact a licensed and registered plumber.
• The water mains that carry water to service lines are highly pressurized and fast-moving, and therefore extremely unlikely to freeze.

“We want you to call a licensed plumber if you have any of these emergencies and you’re not able to safely remedy them on your own,” Rinehart advises.

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