Protect your home from freezing and broken pipes this winter

Cracked water pipe (Canva)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Cold weather and harsh wind chills are a dangerous combination for residential homes and commercial businesses – every year, frozen and broken pipes cause thousands of dollars’ worth of damage and water bill charges. To help prevent people from facing such high costs, The Tribune spoke to Sherry Easterwood, office manager for the Cullman County Water Department, and Adam Burgess, owner of Mr. Plumber plumbing services, to see how people can protect their water lines from damage during the winter.

Both Easterwood and Burgess stated that the most important step one can take is to protect any exposed pipes from the wind and cold air.

“If the temperature is supposed to be a good bit below freezing, the main thing to watch out for is the wind. Obviously, the temperature is what causes the pipes to freeze, but most of the time if you keep the wind off them, the pipes won’t freeze,” Burgess explained. “So always make sure to keep the vents under the house closed in the wintertime, cover your hose bibbs or any exposed pipes with insulation or even just a bucket, anything to keep the wind from hitting them directly. In my experience, people usually overkill it by running water and doing other things, but the biggest thing is just to keep it out of the wind.”

Easterwood offered similar advice, saying, “Just make sure no pipes are exposed. In other words, if you have a house where part of the foundation is open, the first step would be to make sure that there is no way for air to get underneath the house where the pipes are. The second thing would be, if it’s extremely cold, to leave the water dripping for several hours on end. It will cause the bill to be higher, but that’s much better than having to replace hundreds of dollars’ worth of pipes. Just making sure that the pipes aren’t exposed is the most important thing.”

On other common issues that people may not think about as often, Easterwood and Burgess both had their own topics they wanted the community to know about and keep in mind.

Burgess explained a common misconception about outdoor frost-free hose bibbs: “Frost-free hose bibbs have to have the hose taken off of them in order to be frost-free. They will still freeze and bust if you do not take the hose off them. That’s a big mistake a lot of people make.”

Easterwood, on the other hand, said that one of the biggest issues the Cullman County Water Department works on during the winter is frozen and broken pipes at unattended properties. “If you have a property that somebody is not present at for a long amount of time, the best thing to do would be to winterize that property. Our biggest problem comes from unattended places – for example, if I had a lake home and I don’t make sure it’s winterized when I leave,” she explained. “When a break happens at an unattended place like that, it can make a bill go up $2,000-$3,000 very easily. A regular residential meter can allow 43,000 gallons to go through in a day, and that adds up very quickly if it breaks completely in two. People who are at home and can deal with these things quickly are not in as much danger as people who have properties elsewhere that they don’t check in on during the winter.”

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Heather Mann