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Prevent Frozen Pipes and How to Thaw Pipes if They Freeze-Worcester, Boston

08 Jan 2014

Frozen pipes occur most frequently when they are exposed to severe cold, like those in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages or kitchen cabinets.

With the cold arctic air and wind chills that have been hanging around Worcester and Boston we have been experiencing some of the coldest weather in years. With single digit temperatures, frozen water pipes in unheated basements and crawl spaces are a concern for homeowners.

The American Red Cross suggests tips on how to prevent pipes from freezing and what to do if water pipes freeze.

Why Pipe Freezing is a Problem

Water expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on metal or plastic pipes. No matter how strong, expanding water can cause pipes to break. Pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets. Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation are also subject to freezing.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

Before the onset of cold weather, prevent freezing of water supply lines and pipes by following these recommendations:

  • Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer's or installer's directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed.  
  • Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
  • Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated.
  • Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a "pipe sleeve" or installing UL-listed "heat tape," "heat cable," or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes.

During Cold Weather:

  • 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.
  • Do not pour antifreeze in your pipes to prevent freezing. It is the pipes that bring water to your home that you want to prevent from freezing. Additionally, antifreeze is a poisonous, hazardous substance, you don’t want this in your sewage system or leaking  into your soil.

To Thaw Frozen Pipes

  • If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe.
  • 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, or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water.
  • 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 cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber in Boston.
  • Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.

Future Protection

  • Consider relocating exposed pipes to provide increased protection from freezing.
  • Pipes can be relocated by a professional plumber if the home is remodeled.
  • Add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas.

For more information, please contact a licensed plumber like Greater Boston Plumbing and Heating.

Prepare Heat Pumps for Cold Weather – Boston, Worcester

02 Oct 2013

A heat pump heats your home during the winter and cools it during the summer. It is recommended that homeowners perform routine maintenance on home heating systems and heat pumps before the cold weather sets in for good in Boston and Worcester.

Heat pump maintenance is important. Small problems that are not addressed early can lead to very expensive problems down the road. Maintaining a heat pump is more technical than maintenance for the average more traditional heating system, so a professional service person is needed when and if the pump malfunctions and for regular service and maintenance calls. You can keep the system free of dirt by keeping the filter clean and by keeping the flow of air unobstructed.

Cold weather can wreak havoc on outdoor air conditioning and heating equipment. The outdoor heat pump may ice up outside. Some of that is normal in a heat pump. However, excessive build-up of more than 1/8 of an inch is a reason to call the professionals.

If the outdoor heat pump is steaming, don’t panic. The colder the outdoor temperature, the more the system needs to go through a defrost cycle. Do not be alarmed; people with new heat pumps have seen them steaming in the cold weather and have thought the heat pump was on fire.

Outdoor Maintenance for a Heat Pump

It's important to replace the filters and clean and lubricate the components of a heat pump on a regular basis. But heat pumps have an outdoor unit that contains a compressor, a coil, a fan, and other components. To function properly, this unit should be kept free of debris such as leaves and dirt. The unit should be level on its concrete support pad.

Clean pine needles, leaves, and dirt out of updraft fans regularly. Make sure the power to the unit is off before tackling this type of cleaning. A vacuum cleaner hose can sometimes be inserted between the fan blades to remove debris from the sides and bottom of the unit.

At the beginning of each heating season, the unit should be serviced. It is important to be sure that the metal cabinet is level from side to side and from front to back. The piping insulation should also be checked for deterioration. If this insulation is faulty it needs to be replaced.

For heat pump service, maintenance, and repair, contact Greater Boston Heating and Plumbing.

Does the Heat Pump Need Replacement?

20 Mar 2013

Many homes in Boston and Worcester are heated and cooled with a heat pump. A heat pump looks a lot like an air conditioner. Actually, air conditioners are heat pumps, but they only cool air. An actual HNAC unit heat pump provides both heating and cooling.

Heat pumps of today do a much better job of heating and cooling a home because they are much more efficient than the ones from years past. Because they are so much more efficient, many home owners prefer them over oil and gas heat.

However, just like every major appliance, heat pumps have a life span. They will wear out, become less efficient, and eventually, they need to be replaced. It is important to know how much life you have left in your heat pump and what it will cost to replace.

Basically the average heat pump is going to last you between 10 to 15 years. Yours may be older than 15 years, but if so, its demise is imminent.

There is a silver lining to this. A new heat pump will definitely be more efficient than the one you are replacing. And, if you are replacing a 10 year old heat pump with one with an  ENERGY STAR certification, you will probably save up to 20% on heating and cooling bills.

Another way to tell if your heat pump need replacing is through its performance. If it requires frequent or regular repairs or if your heating and cooling bills are higher than normal, it may be time to consider a replacement. Consider heat pump replacement seriously if the unit is 10 years old or older.

It is possible that over time, some rooms in your home are less comfortable than others, this could mean that the heat pump is struggling to do its job. If your heat pump is noisier than it used to be, this may also mean that your need to replace it.

If your heat pump is due for replacement, start by having it serviced.  Ask the technician for an assessment of the remaining life in the unit. For more information on HVAC service or replacement, contact Greater Boston Plumbing and Heating.