Although Northern states experience colder weather than Southern states, as much or more frozen-pipes damage occurs in the South, according to the Insurance Institute for Property Loss Reduction.
Approximately $450 million is paid each year nationwide for property damage caused by flooding from frozen pipes that rupture and cause water damage in homes, the institute said.Until recent years, home builders in the South usually did not consider the threat of freezing weather and placed water pipes in locations vulnerable to freezing, such as attics or unheated crawl spaces underneath homes.
In the North, with winter temperatures often far below freezing, home builders usually don't place water pipes in unheated portions of a home or in uninsulated areas, such as outside walls.
Indoor water pipes that are unprotected usually won't freeze until the outdoor temperature is approximately 20 degrees. Properly protected pipes will withstand much lower temperatures.
In any case, first check your homeowners insurance policy to be sure it covers water damage caused by burst pipes and the cost of repairing them. Most do, but not all. Then, act to insulate or otherwise protect your water pipes from freezing when cold winter returns.
These are things that homeowners can do to "retrofit" pipes to protect them from freezing:
- Insulate or heat pipes in attics and crawl spaces. Pipe insulation in foam or fiberglass sleeves is available from hardware or home-supply stores. Electric heating tapes that wrap around pipes may be used in some cases.
- In crawl spaces, usually only pipes near unsealed vents or openings need insulation, because heat leaking through the house floor is sufficient to prevent frozen pipes.
- In crawl spaces, if possible, seal vents and other openings through which cold wind might blow against pipes and speed up freezing. Old newspapers or cardboard can be used for this purpose.
- Open doors under sinks to allow heated air inside the house to circulate under the sinks and help warm pipes in outside walls.
- Let indoor faucets - both hot and cold - drip slowly to keep water flowing through the pipes, especially those in outside walls. Except in very cold weather, moving water doesn't freeze.
- If you have an indoor valve to do it, shut off lines leading to outdoor faucets and drain them. If there is no valve, cover the faucets with some kind of insulation. Hardware and home supply stores sell products designed for this purpose.