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How can I protect my pipes to keep them from bursting during a hard winter freeze in North Florida?
Friday, June 15, 2018
A hard freeze is a night when the temperature drops into the mid-20s or below for about 4 hours or more—long enough for the cold to penetrate exposed or poorly insulated pipes and freeze the water inside. The unique property of water that makes frozen pipes such a problem is that it expands with tremendous force as it freezes, which easily ruptures pipes.
An overnight frost, where the temperature slips a little below freezing, happens often each winter here, and is no problem for plumbing. But a hard freeze kills seasonal foliage, endangers pets left outside, forms an ice sheet on shallow standing water, and can break pipes if you are not prepared.
Whether you believe in global warming or not, all of us in this area of Florida have observed winter weather has gotten warmer overall in the last few years, and severe hard freezes that drop to 20º F or below don’t even happen at all for several years. But when they do strike, the cold is surprisingly bitter.
Several warm winters in a row and homeowners slack off on their freeze preparations. This January’s especially severe hard freeze reached all the way down to us in The Villages and caught lots of folks off guard. Here’s what we recommend you do at the beginning of the winter season, before you get that hard-freeze warning:
1) The most vulnerable pipes are the ones exposed above ground outdoors, such as at the well head, hose faucets in the yard, and any vacuum breaker (back-flow preventer) for the house water service or sprinkler system. Make sure they all have an insulation wrap or are inside an enclosure like a well shed that is adequate to protect them.
Keeping up with damaged or missing areas of insulation is also important. The pipe between the well head and pressure tank in the photo below fractured during this winter’s hard freeze, even though piping next to it was insulated.
2) Check water pipes in the attic and under-floor crawl space (older homes) for insulation. Hot water pipes need insulation too. If water is not running though them, they will freeze just like cold water pipes. Unprotected pipes in these areas are more likely to freeze in a home that is abandoned or unheated.
3) Have insulating hose faucet covers ready to install around the exterior walls of the house. Also, be ready to wrap something around the disc-shaped vacuum breaker device on a hard-freeze night if it is exposed, like the one below. They can fracture too.
4) Know where your main water shut-off is located, just in case you do have a pipe fracture. It is usually in the meter box in the front yard or at your well head. If you have municipal water service with a meter box, be sure that the shut-off is not buried in dirt that has infilled the box over the years. You don’t want to be scooping dirt out with your hards in the middle of a very cold night, trying to uncover the shut-off.
The Florida Plumbing Code requires that pipes that are subject to freezing be protected by insulation, heating, or both.
But older homes and ones with homeowner or handyman plumbing repairs may not have adequate insulation. It’s important to check now, and be ready the next big freeze.
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