How to Prevent Common Winter Plumbing Problems

The winter time is notorious for being hard on our home plumbing systems. From over-worked hot water heaters to frozen pipes. Severe cold temperatures can cause serious problems that, with a little bit of foresight, can be prevented. As outdoor temperatures plummet to the freezing level and below they begin to wreck havoc on our plumbing systems.

The most common winter plumbing problem is frozen pipes. Normally our pipes are full of water and as this water begins to change from a liquid to solid ice in freezing temperatures it also expands. This expansion of the water in our pipes has broken many pipes over the years; however, there are a few solutions to ensure your pipes remain intact over the winter. First, if you don’t plan on using the plumbing in the freezing cold then simply shut off the water valve and drain the pipes. This ensures that there is no water in the pipes to expand and avoids the problem entirely. If that is not a feasible solution then consider running water through your pipes at a constant trickle. The movement of the water will help prevent the pipe from freezing completely solid and bursting. Finally, if you need to make extensive use of the plumbing throughout a freezing winter consider better insulating your plumbing by covering exposed pipes with insulation. If you have metal or rigid piping consider replacing it for a more flexible material, such as PEX, that will stand up better to the expansions and contractions of water throughout the changing seasons. NY Times made an interview with a plumbing expert, where they ask him various questions on how to prevent your plumbing system freezing.

In the case that your pipes do freeze over during the winter time it is important that they are thawed in a controlled manner. Never use an open flame to thaw a frozen pipe! Open flames are dangerous and using one to thaw a pipe can cause serious damage. Instead consider wrapping the effected area in an electric blanket or using an electric hairdryer.

Another common winter plumbing problem is the dreaded winter septic tank failure. An overflowed or burst septic tank, while always a nightmare, is especially bad during the winter time because the freezing temperatures can make the ground above your septic tank nearly impenetrable! To make matters worse it could also be stuck under feet of snow. For all of these reasons it is best to avoid any and all septic tank work during the winter so make sure that your tank is pumped in the fall before the winter truly sets in.


Most unpleasant of all winter plumbing failures is a broken down hot water heater. Not having hot water to provide some relief from the cold is a miserable prospect for many people. In the winter when the demand for hot water is at its peak be sure to not overwork your hot water heated in an effort to avoid a complete failure. Sediment buildups are common problems leading to failure for hot water heaters so be sure to have your tank inspected every year before winter begins. In the case of a failure, first check for extinguished pilot lights or blown electrical circuits before calling your professional plumber. Read more plumbing tips how to avoid winter plumbing leaks on Angielist.

This is not a comprehensive list of winter plumbing challenges. Winter is a hard season for many aspects of the home, but with a little extra care and effort you can take great strides to ensure that your winter is free of annoying and expensive plumbing problems.

Leave a Reply