How to prevent your pipes from freezing when you have no heat

Wind knocks out power to more than 800K in Metro Detroit

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DETROIT - Temperatures are going to drop below freezing this week in Metro Detroit, and for people impacted by Wednesday's power outage, that could cause some problems.

One of those problems is making sure your pipes don't freeze. Here's some helpful advice from Richmond Power & Light:

Keep your pipes from freezing by shutting off the valve that allows water to come into your home. Then, open any drain valves and all faucets and let them run until the pipes are empty (it's helpful to identify these valves in advance). Next, flush all toilets and pour denatured alcohol into toilets and sinks to prevent water in the traps from freezing. Do NOT use automotive antifreeze in case there's trouble with your water system; you don't want the antifreeze to contaminate your drinking water. You may, however, use nontoxic antifreeze that's made for winterizing motor homes.

Turn off the furnace emergency switch. Then drain your furnace boiler by opening the valve at the bottom (this looks like a garden faucet). Also, open all radiator vents. Be sure the boiler is filled with water again before it is restarted.

The tank of your electric water heater will keep water warm for the first few days after an outage. However, it can freeze after prolonged cold and should be drained after three days of below freezing temperatures.

Here's more information from the American Red Cross:

During Cold Weather, Take Preventative Action

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
  • When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe - even at a trickle - helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

To Thaw Frozen Pipes

  • If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely places for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you can not thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
  • Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.

Bonus tip from Paul Gross:

Make sure to keep drapes and blinds open during the day to let the sun in, which can make a big difference in warming up your home. Then, close them at night to help keep the heat in.

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