Preventing Frozen Pipes in Central Texas

The winter storm of February 2021 (also known as Winter Storm Uri) taught Central Texans to expect the unexpected. Nearly no one can remember a time when Central & South Texas, a place that typically hovers around eighty degrees or better, was covered in snow and experienced multiple days of below-freezing temperatures.

Residents and homeowners experienced long-term power outages and some lost water. A long stretch of cold temps can cause water pipes and plumbing to freeze. When a pipe freezes, it can expand, and in some cases, frozen pipes burst leading to flooding in your home or business.

For most of its history, Texas hasn’t needed to invest in cold weather preparedness, but that’s changing.

Weather patterns are shifting, and we see more and more changes in what was expected, and now, being prepared is the smart move rather than assuming the status quo – to the tune of millions of Texans with burst pipes and who also sat in the dark.

Despite what the headlines say, talking about infrastructural issues across the Lone Star State is a valid topic of discussion, but what’s more important to be prepared for freak weather patterns moving forward.

There are things we can do to move forward, to make sure that people’s homes are ready should this ever happen again, though. Doing the little things can add up down the road.

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First things first: If you experience a burst pipe, shut off the water supply by locating your water shutoff valve immediately. Be sure to keep tabs on the moisture around water heaters, HVAC systems, toilets, refrigerators with automatic ice makers, clothes washers, dryers with steam functionality, under bathroom faucets, kitchen sinks, etc. You can easily install moisture and water detectors, so you’re aware of all levels, should they be an area of concern. These are the worst-case scenarios, so let’s focus on what Texans can do to be vigilant should another winter wallop come next year.

Get serious about insulation

HVAC systems and water heaters in Texas are often installed in attics, garages, or outdoors in non-climate controlled spaces. Properly insulating and weatherproofing these areas make them less susceptible to heat in the summer, and they also retain warmth better in the winter. Take the time to work with a contractor and properly insulate areas exposed to extreme temperatures, such as:

  • Attics & Crawlspaces
  • Exterior walls in garages or outdoor spaces
  • Unheated areas

Pipes can be fitted with fiberglass sleeves to help minimize freezing. Heating tape is another way to make sure pipes stay warm. Think of it as an electric blanket for your pipes. Heating tape is a workable solution in an indoor space, but it may not be enough for pipes on the outside of a house. There are two types of heating tape: One has a thermostat and will sense when the heat is needed. The other needs to be plugged in when needed.

Don’t rely on space heaters

A space heater isn’t going to save the day. Neither is a hairdryer. They don’t put out enough warm air to make a difference of more than a few degrees in sub-freezing temps. They also create a fire hazard. If you are concerned about whether you have pipes exposed to the elements, either outside or in a place like a garage. Think about getting those pipes and outdoor faucets properly insulated against different kinds of weather.

Also, keep the heat on. It seems like common sense, but don’t try to save a few pennies and turn the heat off when it’s cold. Leave it at a realistic temperature, above 55 to 60 degrees, because the warmer it is in your house, the warmer the adjacent and connected spaces will be.

Allow the faucets to drip and keep doors open

It seems like an old wives’ tale, but it’s not. An open faucet relieves pressure throughout the system, whereas otherwise if pipes freeze then thaw, the tension created between the blockage and the tap can cause pipes to burst. If there’s a deep cold snap happening, open up your cabinet doors, kitchen, or bathroom cabinets. Let the heat from the house get in everywhere an exposed pipe could be. Heat needs to flow through the home.

Seal up holes on exterior walls

Suppose there are any holes in the walls or floors where cold air can sneak in, get over to the local hardware store and grab some caulk or spray foam insulation to fill gaps. It’s an easy win. Plus, this is also a common-sense move for keeping your home energy-efficient year-round.

Think about solar or a generator

Consider adding a whole-home generator to provide backup power in the case of power failure. A solar system with a backup battery is also a solution but is often more costly than a generator. But many states have programs set up for solar options, many of which reduce the overall cost of your solar system.

This next year or five years down the road, no matter what happens, always work with a bonded and licensed plumber. You’re the homeowner, and working with pros is what matters most. And if you wind up with a claim and have water damage, contact the pros because major leaks impact walls, carpet padding, and subfloor, which won’t dry without bringing in professional drying equipment.

Should you need the time-tested professionals that the professionals call when the job is too tough, Total Restoration of Texas has seen the worst of the worst that Austin, Texas can dish out, from water damage to flooding.

It’s not all about freezing temperatures

Cold weather and freezing temperatures aren’t the only causes of broken pipes or connections. Foundation settling and movement of your home can also cause pipes to burst. Pipes can also burst at connection points if the proper materials or sealants weren’t used when they were installed.

What to do if your pipes burst

Sometimes, you don’t realize you have a problem until it’s too late.

If a pipe has already burst, locate and turn off the water supply right away. If you’re not sure where the water shutoff is located, find the main water shutoff valve. Next, call a licensed plumber right away. If you have water or flood damage, contact a water damage restoration company.

During the Feb '21 winter freeze, a cap blew off of a pipe in the middle of the night. Within an hour, I awoke to flooding throughout my entire house. I called more water mitigation companies than I can count and ended up on 12 waitlists. Once roads opened up, Total Restoration of Texas was the first company who had the means and the equipment to help. All the others were short-staffed and under-equipped to fill the enormous needs of our community. I got a 9:30 pm text from Kylie, the office manager. She apologized for the late contact and asked if I still need help. (Ummm... Yes, please!) Ryan was out the next day. He managed all of the water mitigation. From the inspection to the demo to the dry out, he was there. They all had to be working 80 hours/week, and they did it all with a smile. Then came insurance. Whew! Kylie handled most of it and let me know when I needed to step in. Boy, she sure knows the ropes when it comes to dealing with insurance! I hope I never have to go through this again, but if I do, Total Restoration of Texas will be the first people I call. They are professional, they took care of my home and belongings, and they took care of me when I needed help with my insurance company. Thank you!
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