There were two things I didn't want to come home to after my recent Thanksgiving vacation. The first was a sky-high heating bill from unnecessarily heating my home during my week away. To avoid that I turned my thermostat down really low before leaving.
At the same time I did not want to come home to burst pipes from frozen pipes that got too cold because of that aforementioned lowered thermostat. I knew I needed to find a happy medium between keeping my home unheated to avoid a large oil bill next month and freezing pipes that would leave me with water repairs to deal with when all I wanted to do when I got home was to unpack and curl up in bed.
Turns out there is a magical number that you can set your thermostat to avoid frozen pipes, and that number is 55 degrees. Unfortunately, I didn't find that out until after I got back and started researching this article. Luckily, I'd settled on 60 degrees as the right temperature to leave my house in our absence. When I got home, sure it was chilly in the house, but at least there weren't any burst pipes.
Since there is a chance you may be going away at some point this winter or, heaven forbid, you lose power like we did for nearly a week during Superstorm Sandy, there are some precautions you can take to avoid freezing pipes.
First, though, let's talk about how serious this problem can be.
According to the folks at Roto Rooter, the plumbing company, even a tiny crack in a pipe can unleash a torrent of water—some 250 gallons in a single day. Imagine 250 gallon jugs of milk stacked in your home and then spilling their content—just thinking about that gives me the chills, even without the 55 degree thermostat setting!
So how do you avoid frozen pipes, water repairs, and other pipe-related floods in the winter? Well, beyond the aforementioned thermostat advice, consider these 4 tips:
- Keep your water heater going. Even when you're leaving home for a vacation, don't neglect your water heater. You may even want to turn it up slightly to retain hot water.
- Insulate pipes in unheated areas. Apply heat tape or thermostat-controlled heat cables around exposed pipes so that if it does become cold in your home, your pipes are insulated and protected.
- Shut off water you're not using. It easiest to forget about pipes that you're not using on a regular basis, and that's where small problems can become big headaches. Turn off the garden hoses so water isn't running through them. When you go away take the extra step of shutting off the washing machine water valve supply.
- Get a flood alarm. If you've had flood problems in the past and have had to deal with water repairs, consider installing a flood detection device that works like a smoke detector. It sets off an alarm to warn you of a potential flood or leak caused by bursting pipes. Of course, if you're not home, you won't actually hear the alarm so be sure to set up a warning system with your house sitter or a neighbor. At the same time always leave them instructions for turning off the main water supply to your home, should a problem arise.