Midwest winters are harsh on people, but also on plumbing. Broken-down water heaters and clogged, frozen and splitting pipes are all too common during the winter months. These plumbing issues can leave your showers cold, tubs backed-up or even cause costly and permanent damages to the structure and foundation of your home. Here are some common winter plumbing issues and what to do when you encounter them.
The problem: Watch out for clogged pipes if your home is the epicenter for family gatherings. While these festivities bring an atmosphere of warmth and generosity, they also bring piles of food and waste. Cooking and cleaning is abundant both before and after. The more food you have in your home, the more likely your drains are to clog, especially if Aunt Agnes volunteers to help and pours leftovers in the sink instead of into the trash.
How to avoid: The garbage disposal cannot chew up everything, so throw away any food that looks the slightest bit of oversized. In addition, avoid pouring oils or grease down the drain, as it can freeze or clog. Running hot water while pouring oil down the drain does absolutely nothing, as oil and water will eventually separate.
If you find a clog, the first DIY step is to pour Drāno down the clogged pipe. If this doesn’t work, a plumbing snake will be the next best option. When all else fails, you’ll have to call a plumber to fix the issue.
The Problem: Cold weather can cause water pipes to freeze in your home. These frozen pipes become problematic by damming up running water and could eventually burst, causing costly and permanent damages to your home.
How to avoid: Frozen pipes are one of those issues that can go undetected until a catastrophe. A great way to avoid these problems is by covering pipes in cold areas of the home with pipe sleeves. A common sign of frozen pipes is low water pressure coming from showers or faucets.
If you discover a frozen pipe, you CAN try to unfreeze it by wrapping the frozen portion with a towel and pouring warm water over the towel. But it’s always best to call a plumber, as a pipe burst will have lasting effects on your home.
The Water Heater
The problem: So you didn’t get much sleep last night, but the workday still continues. You’re tired, half-asleep and all you want is a good shower to help you wake up. You turn on the shower only to be dowsed with ice-cold water. The water heater is broken.
Cold weather causes the hot water tank to work harder than usual, increasing the likelihood of breakdown.
How to avoid: To start, if your water heater is aged, consider replacing it before it gives way. If replacing isn’t an option, you can always turn its temperature down to ease the water heater’s workload. Note, this can affect appliances that require hot water, such as your dishwasher.
Water Line Leak/Break
The problem: Water pipes fluctuate quickly between hot and cold temperatures in the winter. Not from strictly the temperature outside, but from water running in, cold and stagnant, from outdoor temperatures to suddenly scorching hot pipes with hot water flowing through them. These temperature differences leave pipes susceptible to cracks and leaks in the winter months. Despite this, most leaks are still caused by expanding ice.
How to avoid: While leaks and cracks are practically unavoidable, periodically inspecting the pipes throughout the winter can help homeowners spot leaky pipes early, saving your home from damage. Call a plumber immediately if you discover a cracked pipe.
The problem: While basement flooding happens often in the spring, the problems start in the winter. Water expands when it is frozen, including the moisture found in soil, causing the soil to expand around our home. This adds pressure to your home’s foundation that can eventually crack your foundation. When the snow melts and the spring weather showers your lawn with rain, the excess water finds these crack in your foundation and causes flooding.
How to avoid: No one can prevent soil from expanding, but there are active methods to prevent the flooding. Homeowners should consistently monitor their basement and foundations for cracks. Contact a professional if you find any foundation damage, as it only gets worse and more costly with time. Also, be sure all gutters and downspouts are working correctly and leading as much water as possible away from your foundation.