How to prevent water from freezing in pipes

When the water freezes inside the pipes can cause extensive damage, let's see the possible solutions.

Water freezing in pipes
Water freezing in pipes

It is not uncommon, during the winter season, to find oneself without water because ice has blocked the pipes.

When water freezes in a pipe it expands creating a very strong pressure that is able to break even the most resistant pipes, especially in the most exposed sections such as joints and near taps.

But wait! If your water pipes have already frozen then don't go any further and read this article directly: Frozen water pipes, how to intervene

Unfortunately, the resulting damage prevents you from using running water but perhaps it is still quite small compared to the damage to the water system that could occur.

There is no need of in-depth knowledge to say that the rupture of a walled pipe needs, in order to be fixed, to reach the pipe, remove the damaged part, replace it with a new pipe and then restore the masonry. At what cost it is easy to imagine.

The water pipes that are most at risk are those that pass through the perimeter walls of a building, those that serve a sink located on an exterior wall, and those that pass through unheated and uninsulated attics; as well as pipes that are right outside, such as those that serve the garden etc.

The damage of frozen water in the pipes can be seen especially in second homes that are not inhabited and you can see them, unfortunately, only at the time of the thaw.

As long as the water remains frozen it does not come out, but when the temperature will begin to rise here is that the water will come out, more or less copious, from the damaged area and if no one is present can cause flooding and even extensive damage to structures.

How to solve it?

The best way to insulate water pipes

All "exposed" pipes, exposed to possible frost, should be insulated as best as possible.

There are special insulators for pipes made of polyurethane, rock wool or glass wool that, in an extremely simple way, can sheath the pipes even in the elbows and fittings, with special pieces. These insulating sleeves must be fixed with insulating tape without squeezing them.

It must be remembered that it is not so much the insulating material as the air trapped in that material that acts as an insulator, compressing the material also eliminates the air substantially reducing the insulating capacity.

The thickness and type of the insulating material determines the speed at which water solidifies in a freezing phase; in other words: the thicker the insulating material that covers the pipes, the longer the time required for water to pass from a liquid state to a solid state.

N.B. : It is important to stress that pipe insulation reduces the possibility of water freezing in the pipes but it is not a definitive solution. In cases of prolonged freezing and still water in the pipes, sooner or later the water will inevitably end up freezing.

protection frozen pipes

Heating cables

The heating cables are the most technological solution to solve the problem of water that freezes in the pipes.

These cables provide excellent protection from frost and avoid possible damage caused by low temperatures on pipes, valves, taps, water meters, troughs, vases and small tanks.

They have a nominal voltage of 230V and start working automatically when the temperature on the pipes drops below 5 degrees, so the water does not have the possibility to turn into ice and the pipes don't freeze.

Similarly, thanks to their internal thermostat, they deactivate when the temperature rises above 15 degrees in order to avoid unnecessary consumption of electricity.

The cable is made of thermoplastic material with a mechanical protection and grounding braid and a protective outer sheath.

Heating cables should be used as a preventive measure, but they also work if the pipes are already frozen.

It is worth remembering that the protection of water meters from frost damage is the responsibility of the people using the water service and therefore the cost of any replacement/repair falls on the citizens and not the utility company.

In the same way, preventing water freezing in the boiler can protect us from very expensive repairs and obvious inconveniences due to the interruption of the water service.

Let a trickle of water run from the tap

The risk of water freezing in the pipes increases when the water, especially during the night (and colder hours), is not used.

The oldest remedy, but perhaps still the most valid, is to always leave a trickle of water running so that there is always water circulating in the system.

This is almost always enough to make sure that the water, which remains constantly in motion, does not freeze.

Obviously, wasting a resource as important as water is never good but, in the absence of alternatives, necessary.

If you can, flush the water using the bathtub faucet so that you can reuse the water in some way (e.g. by flushing it down the toilet and not using the flush).

Emptying the pipes when you're out for a long time

If you are not going to be at home for an extended period of time, or even for an entire season, the imperative is to close the main valve near the meter and empty the water pipes.

If the system has been designed with a minimum of logic, it must have a drainage point which, obviously, must be in the lowest part of the building (for example the cellar).

Having closed the general valve you can, at this point, leave all the taps open so that, even if there is residual water accumulated in the pipes, it will find a free outlet without exerting pressure inside the pipes in case of frost.

DIY Editor
Do-it-yourself enthusiast. I started with the renovation of my flat and then I changhed this passion into my job.