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Make sure home is ready as bitter cold could lead to frozen pipes

As residents around the D.C. region stay bundled up, it's important to remember that the cold also affects pipes in homes. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — With temperatures expected to dip overnight, frozen pipes are a threat D.C.-area residents should take steps to prevent.

The first step is knowing where your water shut-off valve is located, said Alison Bibb-Carson, campaign chair for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments‘ community engagement and external affairs manager for Virginia American Water.

“The shut-off valves are usually located near the water meter, and if your meter is located outside, the shut-off valve will likely be located on the water pipe or near the water pipe,” Bibb-Carson said.

And the pipes most likely to freeze inside are specifically in the bathroom.

“Your bathroom doesn’t get a lot of heat, so you want to be able to open up your vanities or your utilities closet,” Bibb-Carson added.

In the event you think your pipes might be frozen, she said to check with a neighbor to see if they have water. If not, there may be a water main break nearby. If they do, there’s a good chance your pipes are frozen.

“You want to be able to melt the frozen water by warming the air in the pipes using a warm towel, or a space heater or hairdryer,” Bibb-Carson said.

You should then check to see if your pipes are cracked in order to take the necessary precautions to prevent further damage.

Here are a few more tips D.C. Water recommends to prevent and treat frozen pipes:

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.

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