Winter is the busiest time of year for us, and while we certainly appreciate the business, the truth is so many of the projects we’re called upon could have been easily prevented. Our goal is to not only educate people about the water damage restoration process when they need it, but also to educate people about things they can do to lessen the chances they need it again. The following are some steps you can take to lessen the chances your property suffers water damage due to sub-freezing temperatures:
Insulate exposed pipes on the exterior of your home
Probably the most common type of water loss we see during the winter is pipes freezing and bursting. Usually what happens is a pipe in the basement or under a kitchen cabinet freezes up, and either during the process of freezing or when the water melts, the pipe expands and contracts and eventually fails, sending water everywhere. While these pipes might be servicing an area of the home that is climate controlled, in some cases they enter the home from the outside and so whatever exposure the outer portion of the pipe experiences, in this case freezing temperatures, can make it’s way through the pipe inside your home.
Each fall, the best thing to do is walk around your home and survey the property for any exterior pipes and make sure you wrap those pipes to insulate them from cold weather. We recommend purchasing pipe insulation that wraps around the pipes, but you can also wrap them with hand towels and then wrap duct tape around them.
Another thing you’ll want to do if you know your area is going to get extremely cold temperatures is open your bathroom and kitchen cabinets to allow those areas to receive some of the heat from your home’s heating system. Occasionally it gets so cold that these pipes can actually freeze if they don’t get some heat exposure!
Keep snowmelt away from your foundation
In some areas of the country, many homes have basements and if you live in a home with a basement, you understand the challenges of keeping water out of an area that sits firmly in the ground where water often collects and pools. Unfortunately, these seem areas of the country often get a lot of snowfall. When that snow melts, if the water ends up collecting in the ground next to your foundation, it will find its way through your foundation and into your basement.
When snow melts, you want to make sure the run-off makes its way into your yard and ultimately down to the street. In order to do that, you’ll want to make sure that your lawn is sloped away from your foundation. If there is a lot of snow build up right next to your house, you may even want to shovel that snow away from your home.
Insulate attic plumbing pipes
Especially in the south, it’s not uncommon for hot water heaters to be installed in the attic and for the pipes servicing the system to flow through the attic and then into the home. While it doesn’t happen often, sometimes the temperatures can get cold enough to cause any un-insulated pipes to freeze and burst. When this happens, it can flow every square inch of your home in a matter of minutes. In fact, people describe it as raining in their home with water dripping through their ceilings, quickly flooding whatever floor is directly below the attic and often times any lower floors of the home. And because these types of losses usually cause exterior walls with insulation in them to get wet, the job of drying out the home requires us to remove these surfaces. It’s a very involved process, and could have been easily prevented by spending a couple of hours on a weekend insulating the pipes in the attic and around the water heater.
Prevent ice damming on your gutters
Ice dams occur when snow melts rapidly off your roof due to a warm roof deck and as soon as it runs off that warm surface it freezes. When this happens, the water will often times find passage under your shingles and back up into your attic. After a while the water pools will become substantial enough that the water will start dripping through your ceiling and cause a significant amount of water damage.
The key to preventing ice dams from occurring is to make sure the roof decking for your home is cold. How do you do that? Make sure your attic is well-insulated and properly ventilated. This keeps the warm air used to heat your home where it’s supposed to be (in your home and not escaping outside of it) and allows colder air into the attic cooling the roof deck.
If it’s the dead of winter and you don’t have the time or resources to actually fix the underlying issues but you notice ice dams forming on your gutters, here’s a simple fix that will hopefully get you through the winter without accident: take an old pair of panty hose and pour calcium chloride ice melter into them and then hang the hose partially over the roof and out over the gutter. This will melt the ice before it has an opportunity to dam up and cause water damage in your attic!
Turn your faucets slightly on so that they drip slowly.
Another thing you can do to make sure your pipes don’t freeze up in the winter is allow a small amount of water to flow through them continuously. This is especially important if you’re planning on leaving for vacation and there is the potential for extreme cold temperatures while you are gone.