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Preventing Winter Plumbing Problems

Discovering your pipes have frozen is one of the wonders of winter that you don't want to experience, especially if your pipe ends up bursting. According to State Farm Insurance, "an eighth-inch crack in a pipe can spew up to 250 gallons of water a day," leaving your home and your possessions waterlogged and damaged. You can reduce the risk of this happening to you by taking some precautions this fall.

Find the water shut-off valve for your home. You should locate the primary shut off valve for your plumbing and learn how to turn it off and on. Some houses may not have a water shut off valve, and if yours is one of them, seriously consider having one installed. That way, you can turn off the water as a preventative measure, or in an emergency, if you need to.

Insulate your pipes. Focus on any exposed pipes in the attic and crawl spaces of your home, since these are most likely to freeze. If insulation may not provide enough protection for your plumbing system you can wrap the pipes with heat tape, or heat cables. These products plug into an electrical outlet and generate warmth to prevent the pipes from freezing. It is extremely important that you purchase products that are approved by an independent testing organization like the Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., and that you follow the manufacturer's instructions. Selecting unapproved products or improperly installing an approved product can lead to fires. Be sure to regularly inspect the tape or cable for wear and replace if necessary.

Check for air leaks around electrical outlets, dryer vents and pipes. Seal these leaks with caulk or insulation to keep cold air away from your pipes. Disconnect all garden hoses and, if possible, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from the pipes that lead to your outside faucets. This will decrease the chance of the pipe leading into the house freezing.

Once these precautions are completed, you are certainly prepared for winter temperatures. If particularly cold weather is headed your way, open all of the cabinet doors in your home. This will allow heat to travel to the pipes in your exterior walls and the uninsulated pipes under your sink. You can also leave a small trickle of hot and cold water running overnight to keep water flowing in your system. Select faucets that are located on an outside wall.

If you have to leave your home unattended for several days, keep the thermostat set at 55 degrees or higher, and have a friend check your house every day to make sure it is warm enough to keep your pipes from freezing. You can also shut off and drain your entire water system if you will be away for a substantial length of time. Bear in mind, however, that this will deactivate any fire-related sprinkler system in your home, if you have one. If you believe your pipes have frozen, turn off the water at the main valve to your home and call a plumber.

Sources used in this article include www.about.com, the Indianapolis Water Company, and State Farm Insurance.