The best defense against burst water pipes and secrets my plumber shared

Have you had a burst water pipe in your house? I’m becoming an expert on this topic. In the last two years, we have had two pipes burst. I feel like I’ve learned a few tips and my plumber has shared some secrets that might help you if you see cold weather headed your way.

If you have plumbing that is exposed to the elements the water lines can freeze even if you leave faucets dripping. Be ready to turn the water off just in case the worst scenario happens. When pipes burst there is a significant flow of water coming out at once and it can really do a lot of damage quickly.

Get the essential tools before it gets cold and learn how to use them. You might not think this is necessary if you’re renting vs owning your home. Trust me, it doesn’t matter. Water can cause serious damage to your belongings in addition to the home that holds them. It can be inconvenient at the very least if a pipe bursts.

Essential Tools To Keep on Hand

The first step BEFORE the freezing weather hits, make sure you have these tools. If you wait until it’s already really cold, the Home Depot near you might be out of stock (which happened to me).

You need to be familiar with how to shut the water off in your home. The main water valve can be in different places depending on the age of your home and the type of foundation you have.

Start with where your water meter is, front or back. This gives you a clue where a shutoff valve will be if there is one inside. If you have a slab foundation the main valve is often near the water heater or inside the garage if you have one. If you have an older home, the only main water shutoff valve can be right at the water meter. It’s important to figure this out in advance before you have a broken water pipe.

  • Water meter key – The city often changes the lock on your water meter. I discovered just this year that my old key didn’t work. This one has several options that work with different water meters. DON’T WAIT, Home Depot runs out of these.
  • faucet cover – I buy these in bulk to make sure I have extras because they disappear when I go back in the spring to uncover them.
  • Space heater – If you have a space that’s vulnerable to cold it can help to heat the space. You should be home when you use these, but they can save your attic or garage from getting too cold.

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How to Tell If Your Water Pipes Burst

It can be pretty obvious when your water pipe bursts, but here’s what to look for if you can’t SEE the evidence.

  • Listen for running water. We’ve been able to hear water running under our house each time our pipes have burst. Go into each room and see if you hear water.
  • Water pressure problems. You might notice that suddenly when you turn the water on there’s very low water pressure.
  • No water flow. Depending on how much water is coming out from your leak you might have NO water when you turn the faucet on.
  • Unexplained water outside. You might see standing water or large puddles of water. We had water flowing out into our yard and down the street.

Myth – Set Your Faucets to Drip to Prevent Freezing

It takes a lot more than a drip to keep your pipes from freezing. The plumber’s advice is to keep a slight but steady stream of water.

steady stream of water

Another tip, don’t just run the cold taps, run hot water, and cold water taps. This can keep your water heater from freezing in cold temperatures if you live in a place where the water heaters are exposed to cold.

Our hot water heater froze because we dripped ONLY cold. šŸ˜¢

Myth – Pex pipes don’t freeze

Getting advice from your plumber (unless you know them well) can be like asking a car salesman if you should buy a car. Your plumber might tell you to replace all of your old copper or metal pipes with Pex to avoid a busted water pipe, but your interests aren’t aligned.

My old plumber told me I should replace everything that was metal so I would be less likely to have a broken pipe.

He said that Pex, which is a newer material, is less likely to burst because it is flexible. I asked my new plumber about replacing the copper pipes with Pex to prevent future freezes and he had this to say:

Pex pipes have more give and they are less likely to freeze, but they can still freeze. Pex is not problem-free, you just trade one problem for another. Rats are really attracted to Pex and they like to chew through your pipes, which can cause significant damage and a busted pipe.

How to Prepare Plumbing For Winter

If you live in a climate that isn’t normally below freezing for long periods, you might not be as familiar with what to do to prepare. First, make sure you have the tools I listed above.

  1. Prep the outdoors – Empty your hoses and disconnect them from the water supply. Cover the hose bib with an insulated cover.
  2. Disaster plan – Make sure you know where your water meter and the water shut-off valve is and the key to it works. The worst time to have to figure it out is when there’s a lot of water pouring under your house or you have a water leak somewhere inside.
  3. Open and Heat – Keep cabinet doors open and heat on. If you have unheated areas with plumbing, set up space heaters.
  4. Steady stream both hot and cold on faucets.
  5. Check the expected temperature before you go to sleep – If it’s not cold when you go to sleep, pretend it is. Get all of your preventative measures going.

Find A Professional Plumber You Can Rely On

It’s a good idea to find a plumber you trust before there’s a problem. When cold weather hits, ALL PLUMBERS are busy. No one wants a plumbing emergency, not to mention the fact that an emergency plumber can cost a pretty penny. If it’s a plumber who has been to your home before you have a better shot at getting an appointment quickly.

I personally hate to use larger plumbing companies because I feel like they overcharge. They always want to sell some annual service or do a “free” inspection. I found my plumber on Next Door, which is a hidden treasure.

I have a plumber I trust because he frequently tells me “don’t do that” or “it’s not worth it” when I ask if I need to replace something. Try to schedule a more minor repair to vet the plumber and get in their database, like a leaky faucet.

The best defense against a burst pipe is a good offense. Have the tools and know how to use them. Good luck! 

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3 Comments

  1. What a great bunch of information! Fortunately I don’t live where we have a freeze very often, but these are all such great tips! Kind of scary, the idea of rats chewing through pipes made of Pex. I wonder if squirrels eat through them too? The squirrels in our area do a lot of damage!

    1. I don’t know if squirrels are as likely to go under your house. Plus your foundations in Florida are very different, so it’s probably not a big issue there. I think it’s more of a problem in pier and beam homes.

  2. Andrea, sorry you have had two pipes freeze. We’ve only had one, but it was a doozy. We don’t have those issues in Phoenix, but at our mountain cabin, we need to turn the water off over the winter months (and at the street). It is a pain trying to turn it back on with several feet of snow on the ground…but it is all so necessary. Great post.

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