The Best Way to Prevent Home Water Pipes from Freezing

January cold snaps like the Polar Vortex test the quality of your home construction because it only takes a small defect in insulation and air-sealing to freeze a pipe. Unfortunately, most homes have dozens of places where pipes can freeze because home builders and home buyers rarely pay attention to the thermal performance of a home when building or purchasing a home.

The simple and convenient way to ensure your home is properly insulated and air-sealed is to purchase a home built to ENERGY STAR standards. ENERGY STAR labeled homes are required to meet standards of construction quality that prevent the common causes of frozen pipes. AlabamaWISE is the non-profit sponsor for Home Performance with ENERGY STAR in Alabama.

This year’s polar vortex precipitated a flurry of strategies from insurance companies, realtors and journalists on how to protect your home from the costly impacts of ruptured water lines caused by freezing temperatures. Here’s a list of the most common recommendations for preventing frozen pipes along with the solution built into homes with an ENERGY STAR label. recommends the costly solution of rerouting water pipes. Homes built to ENERGY STAR standards are required to keep water pipes within the thermal enclosure of the home. For existing homes, a better solution is usually to extend the home’s thermal enclosure to bring all water pipes into the conditioned space. This strategy also keeps homes cooler in the summer and more comfortable all year long. The financial return from lower energy bills will pay for the improvement in just a few years.

Popular Mechanics recommends opening cabinets under sinks located along outside walls to allow conditioned air from inside the home to circulate around pipes. Most homes have large holes where plumbing pipes penetrate walls and floors, allowing cold air to infiltrate the home. ENERGY STAR standards require builders to seal all plumbing penetrations in walls behind sinks and floors under tubs and showers, so you can use your heated air to keep your family warm rather than wasting energy to keep pipes from freezing.

Consumer Reports advocates maintaining higher indoor heating temperatures and electric heat tapes on water pipes and allowing water to drip from faucets. All of these wasteful strategies could be prevented a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR contractor who can identify where your home needs insulation and air-sealing. This one-time solution will allow homeowners to sleep snugly in a comfortably heated home rather than worrying about ineffective stop-gap measures every time the thermometer plunges.

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