We thought frozen pipes were a worry we left with moving to Florida, but last month’s Arctic boom sent our temperatures plummeting to 20 degrees for three nights in a row (with an all-time low of 18 degrees, which they’re hosting a once-in-a-kind event). century here in Northwest, FL).
This is especially concerning because Florida homes in our area aren’t always built with this kind of weather in mind. Frozen pipes are bad news because water expands when it freezes, potentially causing pipes to burst or crack, causing leaks or flooding.
Luckily, with a few easy precautions, we managed to keep our pipes from freezing! Which, sadly, isn’t something many of our neighbors can say. Many people we know have had problems with a burst pipe or two – so we are very grateful that the steps we are taking have protected us. Here are 5 things that have worked for us, including a tip from a local plumber that saved our outdoor shower!
Tip 1: Identify Your Problem Pipe
The first thing to do is assess the plumbing in your home for spots that are especially prone to freezing. This step helps you prioritize your efforts and tells you which areas to keep an eye on once the temperature drops. This includes but is not limited to:
- Outdoor plumbing fixtures such as hose bibs or outdoor showers
- Pipe in areas without air conditioning such as a garage, attic, or crawl space
- Plumbing on exterior walls
- The pipe is closed off from a heat source, such as in a closet or indoor toilet
- Pipes are exposed to the wind, like on a wharf
- Pipes are not insulated anywhere
For us, our primary concern is our exterior plumbing – namely our water heaters (see above), outdoor shower, and hose bibs. We care less about our interior plumbing because we are unlikely to lose power/heat (thanks to our whole house generator & the peace of mind it gives us), and losing interior heat usually harms indoor plumbing. But here are some tips for prevent frozen pipes when your heat goes outjust in case.
Tip 2: Add Insulation to Your Pipes
Some of our exterior pipes are pre-insulated, like the water heater shown above. But many of them don’t, including the long section of copper pipe that runs to our outdoor shower (you can see it’s open this post). So as soon as we saw the weather forecast, we rushed to the store and bought some lengths self-sealing foam tubular pipe insulation. They are easy to install and only cost about $3 for a 6-foot tube. Be sure to take some elbow and tee as needed too
It took us about 15 minutes to install the foam tubing on the non-insulated outdoor pipe. In places where we can’t fit a full tube, we use several of these adhesive insulating tape instead. It works well on some protruding parts of certain hose bibs or where multiple pipes are snugly attached to the wall.
Lastly, we also double checked some of the plumbing in our attic to make sure it was adequately insulated. We had blown the insulation in there and some of it had peeled off part of the pipe so we just brushed it back. We read over and over that even if your plumbing is inside, if not insulated and in the attic, basement, or garage, it can still freeze and burst (actually my aunt in Richmond had problems with the pipes in her garage last year when it gets really cold there).
Tip 3: Drip Your Faucet
This tip is old-fashioned, but good. Moving water doesn’t freeze as fast as stagnant water, so force your pipes to keep flowing – even if it’s just a trickle! – is a great way to prevent frozen pipes. Just don’t forget to drip your cold and hot water line. We read a few articles saying you only need to drip cold water, but it sure tripped a few of our neighbors and broke their hot water lines! So we definitely get really successful results with a little dripping on both.
Easy to drip hot and cold water line into it. In the bathroom, we just slightly flipped the hot & cold lever. And in the kitchen, we set our faucet halfway between hot & cold and open it slightly.
Our outdoor showers were a little trickier as involving hot water meant turning the shower on to full spray, which is not something we wanted to do for 3 days straight while temperatures hovered between as low as 18 and 22 degrees. Luckily, a local plumber gave us tips for removing the showerhead and installing the lid. Butooooo, instead of screwing the lid on tight, just tighten it by hand so some water can still leak out. This allowed us to set the shower to a moderate temperature (which ensures that the water moves slightly through the hot water and cold water line), but still let it drip instead of full spray 3 nights in a row. One of our friends showered outdoors during the deep winter and she later realized she was just letting her cold water drip off, so it was her hot tub that froze and burst. And our neighbors across the street weren’t dripping anything outside, so both shower drains broke.
Just to be safe, we keep all of our interior and exterior fittings a little drippy for the full 3 days of our cold weather. We regularly check our outdoor gear to make sure it’s still dripping slightly and that there’s no ice buildup or blockages. We even put a sign on our indoor sink to remind our kids (and ourselves!) not to turn it off during the morning mist or late-night bouts of forgetfulness.
And while it may feel like a huge “waste” of water to leave the faucet running for so long, dripping should have a negligible effect on your water bill. I read some articles that said about 2-5 cents per sink per day. And think of it this way: it uses a lot less water than a major leak flooding your home or yard!
Tip 4: Turn Off Your Water Completely
An alternative strategy is to completely shut off the water to your home or part of your home. For example, if we had a separate enclosure for our outdoor shower, we most likely would. Not that anyone would take a shower outside in that weather! It’s also a great option if you’re leaving town and won’t be home to let your faucet drip or to monitor for leaks. We literally turn off our mains whenever we travel because a burst pipe can happen in any weather (we have a friend who comes home to a first floor that floods in the summer! AWFUL!).
Remember that after turning off the water, you still need to release any water pressure that’s still stuck in the pipe. Find your lowest plumbing fixture (usually an outdoor hose bib) and open it for a few seconds until the flow slows down. This is a tip from a plumber friend in Cape Charles who told us that sometimes people turn off the water but don’t remember to reduce the pressure and they still return to a burst frozen pipe.
Tip 5: Pools Look Vulnerable But Usually Can Handle It
Like many Floridians, we have a pool that we use year-round. It’s not covered or winterized or anything which is typical in colder climates (a year-round outdoor pool is the norm here). This is our first significant cold snap since our pool is complete so we were quite apprehensive at first. We saw a lot of USED and UNCLEAN Plumbing around our pool equipment. gulp.
But after talking to our pool cleaner (who is from Kansas, so he knows it’s cold), we’re confident that our system will be fine. Our Hayward controller has a built-in “Freeze Protect” mode that activates automatically whenever the temperature drops below 36 degrees. This keeps the pumps, fountains, spa jets, and pool heaters running in a continuous cycle to ensure that the water never sits too long or gets too cold. Plus, he assured us, that if the controller failed, it would take a long time for our large PVC pipe to completely freeze and crack. Even older pools without “Freeze Protect” can usually be manually set to cycle the water and use a pump to keep it from freezing, so it’s good to know.
While we would never advise you not to worry about your pool at all, we find a lot of comfort in watching ours stay safe during cold weather. We did absolutely nothing and it just switched on and off and moving the water for four whole days. We’re still checking on it to make sure we see the fountains running and the spa bubbling periodically – but it’s completely self-sufficient and does a great job. So definitely check your system or consult your pool company before the cold weather to see what to expect from your particular pool, but if it has some newish technology (like Freeze Protect) OR you can turn it on manually to keep the water flowing you should hopefully all good. Oh and it really helps to ensure that you’re likely to keep the power up. Many people have a backup generator here for that peace of mind.
Tip #6: Nothing Is So Easy…
In general, these tips may not be enough to stop every possible problem with pipe freezing depending on your specific situation and weather events, but we are so glad we took this precaution and it has certainly helped us feel a lot better about this. the latest arctic explosions and, for us at least, they left us with no pipeline problems at all.
More Cold Weather Preparation
In addition to getting our pipes ready for this extraordinarily cold Florida weather, we’re also taking a few steps protect our plants from freezing. You can read the 6 steps we took, including which one worked better than the other here in this post.
And again, if you’re experiencing heat flashes, we’ve written a post about it how to prevent frozen pipes when your heat goes out.
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