December 15, 2011 in Washington Voices

Heat loss, water damage from freeze are easy to avoid

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photoBuy this photo

Kenny Stewart, of SNAP, replaces weather- stripping on the door of a house in the West Central neighborhood last Thursday in Spokane.
(Full-size photo)

To prevent pipes from freezing


Drain sprinkler systems, disconnect hoses and turn off water to outdoor faucets.

Insulate pipes in unheated parts of your home.

Seal cracks and openings around windows and doors in basements and along exposed pipes.


Heat all rooms that have plumbing fixtures.

If your sink is on an outside wall, leave the cabinet doors beneath it open so warm air can reach the pipes.

During extreme cold, or if nothing else keeps pipes from freezing, leave a trickle of water running from the faucet that’s highest in your home.

Keep the lid to the meter box closed; don’t remove snow from it if you don’t have to. Snow helps insulate the meter from freezing.


Never thaw a frozen pipe using open flame – you can start a fire.

Thaw a frozen pipe using a hair dryer, a heat lamp, electrical tape or a small space heater – never leave a thawing pipe unattended.

A light bulb can also be used to thaw a frozen pipe slowly by placing it next to the pipe – remember to keep it away from combustible material.

Why it matters:

A frozen pipe can burst, spray water all over your home and cause extensive damage, especially if it’s not discovered right away.

Source: City of Spokane’s Water Department

Why hot water pipes often freeze before cold water pipes do

 John Dacquisto, senior lecturer at the Gonzaga School of Engineering and Applied Science and the director of the university’s Center for Engineering Design and Entrepreneurship, had this answer:

 “Yes, hot water pipes do often freeze before cold water pipes. This most often occurs in piping within a wall. Some reasons include the higher pressure that hot water has, plus its rate of evaporation. During the era of metal ice cube trays, if they were filled with hot water, the water would freeze sooner than if they were filled with cold water. The reason is that the cold transfers faster to the hot water.

 However, if everything is completely identical – the pipes are the same size, the insulation around them is the same, the water pressure in each pipe is identical – then the cold water pipe would freeze faster than the hot water pipe.”

 To learn more about SNAP’s heating assistance and weatherization programs go to or call: (509) 456-7111

 The weatherization program has a tremendous backlog of applications right now and is currently not accepting new applicants.

The first big snowfall has yet to hit the Spokane area and that’s given residents a bit more time to weatherize their homes. There is no shortage on advice on exactly how to do that and the hardware stores are brimming with products that promise to keep pipes frost free and the icy draft where it belongs: outside.

Ron Gaunt and Kenny Stewart work for SNAP’s weatherization program. Last week, they were working on a home in West Central, looking for cracks and gaps that needed to be filled.

Gaunt said the most important and relatively cheap equipment a homeowner needs for winterization is pipe wrap, heat tape and filler foam.

“What you want to do is stop air filtration into the home,” Gaunt said.

Pipe wrap comes in different lengths and diameters, so measure the pipe before heading to the hardware store.

Heat tape is meant to be run along the pipe, but it should not be covered with pipe wrap because that may create a fire hazard.

Stewart said it’s often the hot water pipe that freezes first.

“We hear that all the time: people have cold water but no hot water,” said Stewart. “I’m not sure why that is? Sometimes it’s because of the location of the water heater or the hot water tank.” Even a tiny ice cold draft hitting a pipe in one spot can make it freeze.

“Use your hand to feel around the pipe; if there’s air coming from the outside, it’s easy to feel it,” said Stewart.

Filler foam can help fill all the little holes and cracks in the foundation and along window frames, especially in basements.

“Be careful with the foam,” said Stewart. “It expands in the gap you are trying to fill. If you put too much in there it can cause more damage than good. Look for stuff that doesn’t expand too much.”

And read the label – that goes for any product.

Gaunt said the most common mistake homeowners in Spokane are guilty of, is to forget to turn off the water to outside faucets and to disconnect garden hoses.

“If you leave the hose on the faucet, that’s just as bad as not turning off the water,” said Stewart. “The hose can’t drain and the water in it will freeze and back up into the faucet.”

The result is the same: a broken pipe or a broken faucet.

Just because a home is new doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

“New homes have energy problems too,” said Gaunt. “They may be a little different, but they can have plenty of issues.”

Check the front door of your home. If you can see daylight around it anywhere, that’s just as bad as having a baseball-size hole in the middle of the door, said Stewart.

Adhesive foam strips come in many different styles and they do a great job closing gaps around doors. Experiment a bit and find the stuff you like the best.

If, regardless of insulation, a pipe freezes don’t reach for drastic measures.

“When it’s too late, use a pipe thawer or a small heater, and be really careful,” said Gaunt. “Insulation can be flammable. Electrical tape is a very safe way to thaw a pipe.”

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