When temperatures plunged below zero in January, many people have cranked up the heat in their homes to stay warm.

But if you’re a homeowner, it’s also important to remember to protect your pipes from those frigid temperatures, which could lead to broken water lines.

According to the American Red Cross, water pipes are susceptible to freezing in low temperatures because water expands as it freezes. When the water expands, it creates pressure, which can cause pipes to break.

Rapid City experts David Stertz, owner of Rapid Rooter, and Dennis Walz, owner of Dede’s Faucet Repair, say safeguarding your home inside and out is the best way to help prevent unpleasant water leaks, messy sewer backups and costly repairs that could result from damaged pipes.

Prevention is key. “Check your pipes ahead of time,” Stertz said. By checking everything out before the cold season hits, “Old Man Winter will be a lot nicer to you,” Stertz said.

Keeping heat in the home

Keep warm air circulating throughout your home. This is especially important if your sinks are on an outside wall. “If you have an older home and it’s not as insulated or as not as good of insulation that they’re putting in today’s new homes, you may want you want to make sure you leave the kitchen cabinets a little open to keep some heat going to them," Walz said.

However, if you plan to leave town, the Red Cross recommends keeping your thermostat set to at least 55 degrees.

Don’t forget to disconnect your water hose from the outside faucet. Otherwise, the faucet could freeze and burst, Walz said. 

If you live in a residential home, you can leave your water running to keep pipes from freezing during sub-zero weather.

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However, with mobile homes the sewer line is exposed under the trailer, Walz said. "So if you leave water running or have a toilet running or anything in a mobile home running during the winter weather, then you freeze up your sewer pipe."

"You don’t want to just trickle it," Stertz said. "You want to turn it on to a steady stream. If you trickle it, you have a good chance of freezing up your sewer line.”

Protecting pipes 

Protect exposed water pipes with heat tape. The Red Cross recommends installing specific products made to insulate water pipes, which include pipe sleeves or an approved heat tape. It recommends UL-listed heat tape, heat cable, or similar materials.

Walz recommends heat taping "lines that are close to the wall or in a mobile home where your water comes out of the ground."

In addition, Stertz said to check whether your heat tape is in proper working order by making sure the test light is on when the heat tape is plugged, which will indicate that it's working.

And don’t forget about your sewer lines.“Your sewer line in most residential houses is buried deep enough but if you have an outside cleanout, you want to make sure that cap is on,” Stertz said.

Replace any broken caps; otherwise air will circulate through the pipe and cause it to freeze. In mobile homes, make sure the sewer line is elevated. “A lot of times they have them on blocks underneath the trailers so the elevation needs to be correct so it flows downhill,” Stertz said. “If it flows uphill then it holds water in that spot then it’s going to freeze."

Experts agree that whether using heat tape, insulation or hiking up your thermostat, the most dependable way to protect your pipes from freezing is to check them before extreme cold weather strikes and keep them warm. "Bump the heat a little bit in the house to make sure it’s good," Walz said. 

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