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How to Keep Your Pipes From Freezing (and What to Do If They Burst)

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Do you know where your water shutoff valve is? If you don't, now is the time to find out.

It's already been a snowy and cold winter in many parts of the country, and with the unpredictability of Mother Nature, we're certain to experience more frigid days and nights before the spring. Freezing temps combined with strong winds often result in burst water pipes. Dealing with the mess and stress of burst pipes is never easy, but it's even worse when it's cold outside.

Shutting off the water flow quickly after the pipes fail can save you thousands of dollars in mitigation repairs — so it's not just good to know where the shutoff valve is and how to use it, it's smart.

"If you can't find (the shutoff valve) or don't know where it's at, call your local plumber and have them swing over to show you where it's at and make sure it's operating," recommends Mark Roseland with Backlund Plumbing in Omaha, Neb., who added that every home should be equipped with one. "If you don't have one, have your local plumber install one. Sometime, you're going to have to turn the water off to that house."

The three most common causes for burst pipes are:

-??Hoses remain attached to outdoor spigots in cold weather, which allows water to remain in in the lines;

-??Too little warm air circulating around concealed interior pipes; and ?-? Leaks in exterior walls that allow cold air to reach pipes.

"Make sure that all exterior garden hoses are removed from the (spigot)," Roseland said. "Make sure you open a few of the vanity doors to get warm air into the water lines underneath the sinks. Take a walk around your house, and make sure there are no cracks, holes or anything to where a cold wind can blow into the house. If you think there's a danger of your water pipes freezing overnight, one of the ways to handle that would be to just let a faucet trickle. That will keep the water moving within the pipes, and they won't freeze."

If a pipe does burst, it won't take long for the water to start doing damage. If it begins to penetrate walls and flooring, you will need the services of a water mitigation company to clean up, dry out and repair the damage.

These companies can often manage the entire restoration process from working with your insurance provider to drying out the damage, mitigating any mold and making repairs, so it's important to find a company with a good reputation that you can trust to return your home to its condition prior to the water damage.

Joe Kielbasa, owner of Joe Kielbasa's Flood Service in Staten Island, N.Y., has seen plenty of burst pipes in his 30 years as a water mitigation specialist. He cautions homeowners from trying to do the cleanup themselves, even though many homeowners instinctively want to wade in (literally in some cases) to start saving furniture and fixing the problem. The very real danger of electrocution isn't top of mind, he says.

"If you have a couple of inches of water pouring in your basement or living area, and you have an extension cord, all it takes is one that's a little frayed," Kielbasa said. "If you have that and you touch that water, you're going to get a shock and could get electrocuted. You could fall back, hit your head and sustain a serious or fatal injury. You think you're doing something to help the situation, but you're really not. A lot of times, you're putting yourself in a very perilous situation."

ANGIE'S ADVICE TO MINIMIZE THE POTENTIAL FOR A BURST PIPE:

-? If your home is on a crawlspace, make sure the vents are closed during the winter.

-??Check the exterior of your home — especially areas where you have plumbing on the exterior walls — for possible sources of air leaks.

-??Open cabinet doors under kitchen and bathroom sinks to let room-temperature air in.

-??Allow a small drip of water to come from your faucets to keep water flowing.

-??Add pipe insulation covers. Though these can help retain heat, they do not create heat.

-??Heat cables and heat tape apply heat to water lines but require connection to a power supply to work.

-??If you insulate pipes on an exterior wall, it's important to place the insulation between the pipe and the outside wall, rather than the inside wall, which would prevent warm air from reaching the pipe.

-??If water has frozen in your lines but your pipes haven't burst, turn off the shutoff valve and allow the pipes to warm again before turning it back on.

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, the nation's most trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care. To find out more about Angie Hicks and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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