Snow-covered winter weather brings a fun day sledding down the highest hill or snowball fights in the back yard. That being said, winter weather can be tough on your home. Excessively cold conditions can cause the water lines in your house's plumbing system to freeze and burst, which can result in serious water damage and long-lasting negative effects.

When your pipes are covered in ice, you might need to call a plumber in to resolve the issue. That being said, there’s several tasks you can perform on your own to keep this from happening – and even just a bit of prevention can go a long way.

What Pipes Are at Risk of Freezing

The pipes at the highest risk of freezing are exposed water lines. Frequent locations for exposed pipes are in attic crawlspaces, near exterior walls, in the basement or even running underneath a modular home. Water lines that are not appropriately insulated are at the biggest risk.

How to Stop Pipes from Freezing Over in Your Home

Properly insulating exposed water lines is a solid first step to keeping your pipes ice free. You’ll often locate most of these materials from a local plumbing company, and could also already have some somewhere in your home.

Be careful not to cover other flammable insulation materials where they may light on fire. If you don’t feel comfortable insulating the pipes by yourself, call your local plumbing services professional in to handle the job.

If you do choose to insulate the pipes on your own, popular insulation materials for pipes consist of:

  • Wraps or roll insulation: Many plumbers, hardware stores and national retailers offer insulation – commonly fiberglass, foam wraps or pipe sleeves – that you can wrap or fit around your pipes. They are supplied in different lengths and sizes to suit the needs of your home.
  • Newspaper: To some degree, newspaper can be used as insulation. If the weather is cooling down and you aren’t able to add insulation in time, try wrapping uninsulated pipes in this.
  • Towels or rags: If you miss the opportunity to buy insulation and don’t have any newspaper handy, wrapping particularly vulnerable pipes with towels or clean rags as a last-ditch effort can be just enough to keep the cold air off the pipes.

An additional preventative step you can attempt to stop pipes from being covered in ice is to fill any cracks that may let cold air inside your home. Keep an eye on the window frames, which can draw in surprisingly intense drafts. This not only will help to keep your pipes from freezing, but it will have the added benefit of making your home more energy efficient.

Five More Ways to Keep Your Pipes from Freezing:

  • Open the cabinet doors. Opening the cabinet doors under the sinks and other areas of your home that have pipes will allow more warm air from the rest of the room to reach the pipes.
  • Letting water drip. Keeping the water flowing by letting your faucets trickle even just a little can help thwart frozen pipes.
  • Open interior doors. By opening doors between rooms or hallways, your home can be heated more equally. This is particularly important if there's a room that is frequently colder or hotter than other rooms.
  • Close the garage door. The exception to the open doors advice is the garage door, which you should keep down – namely if your water lines can be found near or under the garage.
  • Keep the heat flowing. Experts suggest setting the thermostat at a stable temperature and leaving it there, rather than allowing it to get colder at night. Set it no cooler than 55 degrees.

How to Stop Pipes from Freezing in an Empty Home

When you’re inside a house, it’s easier to know when something goes wrong. But what extra steps can you try to prevent pipes from freezing in a vacant home or vacation home when the damages from a frozen pipe can remain unnoticed for days or even weeks?

As with a primary residence, placing extra insulation around any exposed water lines, opening interior doors in the home and winterizing the vacant home are the first steps to take.

Additional Steps to Keep Pipes from Freezing in an Empty Home:

  1. Leave the heat on. Even though you won't always be home, it’s best to leave the heat on – even if you turn the thermostat down colder than you would if you were there. As with a primary home, experts recommend keeping the temperature at no cooler than 55 degrees.
  2. Shut water off and drain the lines. If you’re going to be out of the house for a long time or are winterizing a seasonal cabin or cottage, switching the water off to the house and emptying the water out of the water lines is an easy way to keep pipes from freezing and bursting open. Don’t forget to drain the water out of all appliances, such as the hot water heater, and the toilets. Make sure you get all the water from the plumbing. If you're uncertain of how to drain the water from the pipes, or don’t feel comfortable performing it without any help, a plumber in will be happy to offer support.