All the water meters in the picture above needed to be replaced because they froze. With more cold weather on the way, it’s important to protect your pipes and meters.
With just a little over a month before the official start of winter (Dec. 21), we’re already seeing temperatures that seem to indicate the Frost King has taken up residence earlier than usual in the Lehigh Valley. The mercury has dipped below freezing multiple times in the past few weeks, and more low temps are on the way. That means that if you haven’t done it already, it’s high time to protect your pipes and water meter from freezing.
Remember that while Lehigh County Authority owns the water meter, the water customer is responsible for protecting it. If the water meter is broken because of freezing or other damage, LCA will charge the customer for the meter’s replacement.
Most water meters and many pipes are located in basements, crawl spaces, and other unheated areas, where low temperatures can easily cause them to freeze and, in some cases, burst or leak. Insulating your meter is a very simple way to protect it. The easiest way to insulate a water meter is with a specially made cover. If you’re not sure what kind to purchase, check with a plumbing supplier, or contact LCA’s Customer Service Department.
Pipes can either be insulated or wrapped in heat tape. Foam pipe-wrap insulation and heat tape are available at most hardware and big box stores. If you’re unsure how to do this, contact a licensed plumber.
You should also ensure that water to any outside sources (such as a garden-hose hookup) has been turned off. There’s usually a shutoff valve inside the house somewhere. Once that valve has been closed, drain the outside faucet by turning it on. Then leave it open a turn or two to ensure that if any water is still trapped inside, it will push out the opening when it freezes — not expand and crack the pipe. Make sure to drain and store any garden hoses, too — they can freeze and split.
This is also a good time to seal up your house to prevent drafts and cold air from finding their way inside (and to prevent heat from escaping). Not only will this help to protect the plumbing, it will save you some money on heating costs. Expanding, spray-foam insulation is a fairly inexpensive way to do this, and can be used to close up areas where wires or pipes enter the house through a wall or foundation. It can also be used to seal up larger gaps around windows and door trim.
Check the caulking around windows and doors, too: If it’s peeling or cracked, remove the old caulk carefully and replace it with a newer, silicone-based formula that will last for many years. If you have storm windows, now is the time to remove the summer screens and install this extra layer of protection. If you know your windows are drafty, invest in some plastic window wrap. This will keep cold winter air out, and warm air in.
Insulate those outlets, too: You can purchase inexpensive outlet and switch insulators at most hardware and big-box stores. They’re usually made of foam, and are placed under the outlet cover to block cold air from outside walls.
Gaps under doors often leave the uninvited cold air in, so install a door sweep — there are a number of types that have an adhesive backing, so no drilling is required. If you can’t do that, at least invest in (or make) a door draft stopper, which will block the cold air. You can even use an old pair of jeans stuffed with two foam pipe wraps!
If your electric water heater isn’t insulated, now’s the time. You can purchase kits at hardware and big-box stores. Leave gas- and oil-powered water heaters to the pros — mistakes with these could cause a fire or cause venting of deadly carbon monoxide into your home.
If you’re renting, check with your landlord to see who’s responsible for winterizing your residence. If you (or the landlord) can’t make all these changes, there are still a number of affordable options to let Old Man Winter know he’s not invited inside:
- Run Ceiling Fans In Reverse: Warm air rises. Running the fan so the blades turn clockwise pushes warm air coming out of your heater downward. Set the fan to its lowest level to get this effect; running it on high will cause the air to cool and create a breeze.
- Cover Walls, Floors, Ceilings: This keeps the heat inside your house, and is a simple fix for poorly insulated homes. Quilts hung on exterior-facing walls work the same way they do on your bed —they keep heat inside. Carpets keep your feet warm.
- Switch the window coverings: Use thick panel drapes or cellular or honeycomb blinds to add another layer of insulation around windows — especially helpful at night.
- Be a passive heater: Passive solar heating puts the sun to work for you. Observe how sunlight moves across your home during the day, and leave curtains or blinds open on windows that get a lot of sun exposure. South-facing windows usually provide the most sun.
- Clean radiators and vents; replace furnace air filters: Radiators, hot air vents and baseboard heaters collect dust that slows (or blocks) air flow and acts as an insulator, preventing some of the heat from reaching the room and lowering efficiency. A dirty air filter makes your furnace work harder, costing you more money and creating additional wear and tear on the unit.
Finally, if your pipes do freeze when the cold weather hits, do NOT use a torch to thaw them. Instead, use a hair dryer to thaw them slowly. Torches are the most common cause of house fires when they’re used to thaw pipes.
If a pipe ruptures during a freeze, find the shut-off valve and turn off the water. This is often located on the main service line. You may also have separate shut-off valves for outside pipes or other areas in the house.