Below-zero temps mean extra care for water pipes

2008-12-21T23:00:00Z Below-zero temps mean extra care for water pipesBy From MSU News Service - 12/21/2008 Montana Standard
December 21, 2008 11:00 pm  • 

BOZEMAN — When the temperatures dip below zero, Mike Vogel always get calls about how to prevent freezing pipes.

Vogel, the Montana State University Extension housing and environmental health specialist, says there are five main ways to keep pipes from freezing — or bursting — in the cold.

  • Open all sink cabinet doors to expose warm house air to the water supply and drains. If the washing machine is in a closet, open that door as well.
  • This is the one time people should let a cold water faucet drip, says Vogel. The water moving slowly through the pipes generally will keep the water from freezing the supply pipes from the water main or pump.
  • Homes should be kept at a steady temperature rather than setting the temperature down as you would normally do to save energy.

"The additional energy cost will be a lot less than paying for a burst water pipe and the clean-up," says Vogel.

  • Pipes in unheated areas like crawl spaces and garages should be given special attention. They should be insulated so that cold drafts cannot reach the pipes. Make sure vents are closed in crawl spaces. They can be left closed until spring.
  • Periodically open a faucet to flush water through them.

If pipes freeze, use an electric heater to immediately thaw the blockage to prevent the entire pipe from freezing and bursting.

Vogel says heat tape can be used but only with "extreme caution." If improperly installed, they can cause house fires.

For information on home energy topics, contact the local MSU Extension office or visit the MSU Extension Web page at

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