Winters in Austin are mild compared to our neighbors to the north. Austin only averages temperatures below freezing about 25 days per year.
Those warm winter temperatures mean your plumbing is usually safe, but there's still the risk of frozen pipes on those rare days when the temperatures dip below freezing.
Since it's not a common problem in Austin, you may be unprepared for it. A frozen pipe is a major plumbing problem that requires a plumber a fix. The pipe can burst and cause lots of water damage to your home.
Winterizing pipes protects them from freezing temperatures if Mother Nature sends a cold spell our way. The winterizing steps are simple to do, but they can save you a lot of time and money if and more likely when Austin winters turn freezing.
Handle these steps before chilly winds can threaten your home's plumbing.
Disconnect Garden Hoses and Drain Sprinklers
Exterior spigots leave your home plumbing susceptible to freezing. Your garden hose provides a direct pathway for the cold air into your home's plumbing.
Water left in the hose and in the pipes leading to the spigot can freeze if the air temperature drops too low. Unscrew your garden hoses and pack them away for the winter as a precaution.
If you have a sprinkler or irrigation system, turn it off and drain it for the winter. You can have a professional company come to blow out the water lines to ensure there's nothing left in the pipes to prevent damage to the system.
Fill in Cracks and Gaps
Your plumbing runs inside your home, but it's still possible for cold air to reach the pipes when it's freezing outside. Any cracks, gaps, or openings in your home's exterior let the cold air seep into your home. If your pipes go through those areas near the gaps, the flow of cold air can cause them to freeze and burst.
Inspect your home for any openings on the exterior. The foundation is a common place to find issues. Repair those openings with caulk or spray foam insulation.
Larger gaps or cracks may require more extensive repair. If you're unsure about the proper fix, contact a professional to look at the damage. A severe crack could be a structural issue that needs professional repairs.
Add Insulation to Cold Spaces
If your pipes run through crawl spaces, attics, garages, or other areas that aren't heated, consider adding insulation in those spaces. Keeping them insulated increases the air temperature where the pipes pass. Warmer air around the pipes decreases the chance of the water freezing inside them.
You can also insulate the pipes themselves to provide a barrier against cold air temperatures. Insulation designed to fit over the tubes keeps the pipes warmer. You should only need to insulate pipes in areas that aren't heated, such as crawl spaces or garages.
Plumbing insulation comes in tube-like structures that fit directly over the pipes. They're usually made of fiberglass or polyethylene. You'll need to know your pipe size to buy the matching size of pipe insulation.
If you want even more protection for pipes in unheated areas, you can apply heat tape to the pipes. Follow the instructions exactly on the heat tape to install it safely. You can install the pipe insulation over the heat tape to double up on protection.
Keep Garage Doors Closed
If any of your plumbing runs through your garage, keep the garage door closed in cold weather. Garages are typically colder than the main part of your home unless they're heated. The colder air can increase the chances of pipes freezing in those areas, but you can keep the garage warmer by keeping it closed.
Open Vanity Doors
An easy step you can take if the temperature drops below freezing is opening your vanity or cabinet doors. This is especially helpful if your sink is on an exterior wall. The pipes run through that exterior wall, where they're closer to the cold outside air.
By leaving the doors open, you let more of the warm house air into the under-sink area. That can keep the pipes warm enough to prevent freezing.
If it's particularly cold, consider putting a space heater in the area to raise the air temperature more. Follow space heater safety guidelines, including only using it when it's supervised and keeping it at least 3 feet away from items that can catch on fire.
Always Leave the Heat On
Are you heading out of town during the winter? Don't shut your heat off to save on utilities. If the temperatures drop below freezing while you're gone, your pipes will likely freeze.
Instead of shutting the heat off completely, turn down the thermostat. You'll use less energy, but you'll still have the heat running as a backup in case Austin experiences a cold snap while you're out of town.
Leave Water Running
If you know the temperature is going to drop below freezing, you can leave your faucet running just a tiny bit. This trick works for faucets with pipes running through exterior walls where there's an increased risk of pipes freezing.
Letting the faucet drip steadily keeps water flowing and may prevent it from freezing. If the water does turn to ice, the dripping water can reduce pressure build-up and may stop the pipe from actually bursting, which can prevent serious damage. You shouldn't have to worry about doing this too often in Austin, but it's a good trick to know in case we get an unusually cold spell.
Even in the mild winters of Austin, winterizing pipes is a worthwhile task when the temperature starts to drop. It may not be likely, but it's possible for Austin to go below freezing during the winter. Taking preventative steps just in case the temperatures dip below freezing can save you unexpected expenses in pipe repairs.