Winter is coming, and to prepare, I’ve been checking off some very important home maintenance tasks. At the top of my list are several plumbing-related items. While temperatures rarely get cold enough for pipes to freeze here in sunny California, other locations may not be so lucky. If you live in a chillier climate, you’ll want to prepare for the bitter winter months by completing some critical plumbing tasks. Start with the outdoor plumbing in the fall, preferably before the first frost hits. Taking a few simple preventative measures can save you significant money and stress in the long run.

Drain Your Outdoor Faucets

Many homes are equipped with at least one outdoor faucet. Before winter, remember to detach your garden hose, turn the water off at the shutoff valve, and drain the faucet fixture before it has a chance to freeze. When water freezes, it expands. If you leave water in your outdoor pipes, you risk rupturing your plumbing, which can cause flooding inside your home. In areas that experience sub-zero temperatures, you may want to consider putting insulated covers over your exterior faucets in addition to draining them. These faucet covers are easy to install and can typically be used season after season.

Insulate Your Pipes

Winter weather can occasionally cause pipes to freeze and sometimes even burst, causing costly flooding and water damage in your home. Some pipes are more prone to freezing, including pipes located on exterior walls, exposed pipes in unheated rooms, and plumbing located outside the home. In the majority of cases, inexpensive foam pipe insulation is enough to prevent pipes from freezing in moderately cold climates. In climates that experience severely cold winters, choose a better form of pipe insulation, such as thermostatically controlled heat tape. This type of tape automatically turns on when the pipes reach a certain temperature.

Allow Your Faucets to Drip

If you live in an older or poorly insulated home, you’re at a higher risk of frozen pipes. One simple thing you can do to prevent water in your plumbing system from freezing is to turn on your faucets. When you allow your faucet to produce a slow drip, you help prevent the buildup of pressure in the pipes, and the moving water has less time in the pipe to freeze there before it flows out. Even if one of your pipes does end up freezing, the release of pressure in the water system will significantly reduce the risk of the frozen pipe bursting.

Handle Issues Quickly

During the winter, it’s important to watch out for signs of pipes freezing. You may notice odd sounds when you flush the toilet or smells coming from your drains. This could indicate a backup or broken pipe. If a pipe is leaking, you may see wet rings on the ceiling or wet drywall. If you are experiencing a frozen pipe, keep the faucet open to help relieve any pressure. Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad, hair dryer, or portable space heater. Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you can’t locate the frozen pipe or are not able to thaw the pipe, contact a licensed plumber for assistance.