Preventing your pipes from freezing during a Missoula winter
In genuine Montana fashion, the seasons have changed rather rapidly here in the Missoula Valley; nightly temperatures are now routinely below freezing, and as they continue to drop, the chances of frozen pipes in and around your home only rise. Because water expands as it freezes, it puts pressure on the material containing it. If the pressure becomes too great, you could have a burst pipe on your hands.
Luckily, there are a few simple steps you can take to help keep those faucets flowing during winter months. The first step is knowing which pipes are most vulnerable to freezing. Outdoor pipes, like supply lines to swimming pools or sprinklers, are the most vulnerable and should be drained according to manufacturer instructions. (Don’t use antifreeze in these pipes unless specifically directed to do so, as it can be harmful to both pets and the environment.) Outdoor valves that run water from indoor supply lines (like hose bibs) should be left open to drip and allow water expansion outward, while the valve on the indoor side should be closed for the winter.
Winterizing doesn’t end there, though. Pipes along exterior walls, or in areas of the home with little to no insulation, are also at risk of freezing. Keep doors closed as often as possible to protect pipes in unheated garages or shops. Inside your home, open kitchen and bathroom cabinets containing pipes so that warm air can circulate, and consider adding insulation in crawlspaces and attics where pipes are present. There are a number of specialty products on the market for pipe insulation, such as pipe sleeves, heat tape, and heat cable, but even ¼” of newspaper can help protect pipes in freezing conditions.
When subzero temperatures persist, you can also take the extra precaution of turning your faucets to drip; even at a rate of 5 drips per minute, running water through your pipes can help prevent freezing. Then, if you’re going to be away from home for an extended period of time, be sure to keep your heat set to 55°F or higher. It’s better to spend a little extra on heat than a lot extra on property damage caused by a burst pipe.