Freezing pipes

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Topic: Freezing pipes

Home and Garden January 5, 2012 at 11:43 am

Freezing pipes

My husband and I live in a row house in Petworth that was renovated about two years ago.  In the last couple of days, as well as a couple of times last winter, our pipes have frozen when the temperature dipped into the 20’s.  I checked and the pipes seem to be insulated outside, so I wasn’t sure if maybe that insulation wasn’t adequate or if it also needs to be insulated within walls or something (I know nothing about this kind of thing).  Does anyone have experience with this?  Any recommendations for people that may be able to address this?

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Well the pipes (main) shouldn’t really be outside. If they are outside they have to be below the frost line and generally come below your basement or ground level via DC WASA. If they are inside they should be in a conditioned space or heated.  You could try heating the pipe with a wire from your local home store and since its probably copper, the heat would carry.  If you are just talking about a hose spigot outside, you need to shut it off from inside and empty any retained water.
Pipes generally dont freeze outward and break but what happens is they cause damage inside your house because of city pressure. A small trick in the meantime would be on very cold days to leave a tap on inside your house at a very low pressure. This wastes water but for one day you could always keep a big bucket and water plants with it and it could help prevent major damage.


The leaving the tap on is a common practice in areas that have well-below-freezing temps during the winter — works like a charm.  Also, if the pipes are in an unheated space – like a crawl space -lit lightbulbs (one of the old ones that gives off heat) will usually keep it warm enough to not freeze.  (You can use those light bulb sockets on a long extension cord.)
The trick to unfreezing frozen pipes is to do it very slowly – 


Need more details on the problem.  Is this a hosebib?  If so, you should shut it off from the inside and drain it.
If it’s house plumbing, code generally prohibits plumbing in exterior walls for just this reason, and the renovator screwed up. 
If these are older pipes in an exterior wall, there are various techniques, including the dripping faucet trick. You can also get heat tape and turn that on on cold days (or get a temperature activated plug).  Or you can put vents in the wall that will allow enough heat to get in to keep them from freezing.

We just had a pipe burst in the house we owned since last summer. It was renovated five years ago, and the contracter screwed up (per ah’s comment) by installing the pipe along the exterior wall. Needless to say, this is a mess.  Does anyone have a good plumber in NE DC who can help us fix this? We are going through insurance and have started the initial process of dehumidifying/repair, but need a plumber who can help prevent this from happening again.  

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