Keep Pipes Safe: Dripping Faucets in Cold Weather Explained

why should you drip faucets cold weather

Frozen pipes can lead to burst pipes, leading to a massive headache. But, you can take steps towards preventing freezing pipes altogether.

Let’s look at why a dripping faucet works during cold weather and how else you can avoid winter freezing your pipelines.

Why should you drip faucets cold weather?

The drip of the faucet will keep water moving through your pipes, making it harder to freeze. Your water bill is likely to go up, but it’s a small price to save your home from burst water pipes.

How to Prevent Your Pipes from Freezing

Open the Cabinets

Sometimes the drip isn’t enough to stave off the frigid outside temperatures.

You can open all of the kitchen, bathroom, and basement cabinets to provide the pipelines with a little extra heat.

Reuse the Water

Saving money and water conservation should be a priority. 

You can place cups to catch the drips and dribbles instead of letting them escape down the drain. You can water plants and do a little cleaning with the recycled H2O.

At what temperature should you let faucets drip?

Pipes freeze at around 20°F; you will want to start thinking about turning on the faucet when it gets down to freezing outside (32°F).

Turn Up the Heat

It feels like more waste, but you want to keep your thermostat at the same warm temperature day and night. 

If you’re going out of town or won’t be at home, the house temperature should be set no lower than 55° F. 

Insulation Issues

Frozen pipelines occur more in warm climates than in cold climates. It’s because places like Florida and Louisiana don’t insulate their pipes from extreme cold. But you don’t have to get caught off guard by a once-in-a-lifetime ice storm.

Check and update your insulation before it gets cold to help winterize your pipeline.

When You Know, You Know

It’s far too easy for pipes to freeze while we’re asleep because that’s when it’s the coldest outside. So, when you wake up and it’s at or below 20°F.

  • You want to try and drip the faucet as soon as you can, so going to the sink is already a priority.
  • If you find that there’s barely a trickle or nothing at all, it’s too late. They’re frozen.
  • You can check along the water supply pipelines to find the freezing spots and try to start the thawing step in the process.
  • A broken pipe is very, very bad, and you will want to turn off the water main and call a professional plumber ASAP.

Should you drip both hot and cold water when it’s below freezing?

You’ll want to stick to a cold water drip from the faucet. The water running through the pipes helps prevent ice from dangerously building up.

Warm or hot water can do more damage by melting ice too fast and causing plumbing problems.

How do I thaw already frozen pipes?

frozen pipe

Sometimes it’s just too late to stop winter weather from freezing water pipelines. But there are ways you can try and thaw out the pipes before you need to call a professional.

Turn Off the Faucet

Dripping faucets doesn’t only prevent pipes from freezing; it can help to thaw already existing ice. Even a trickle is enough to get the process started.

The Pipes You Can See

Any exposed pipes can benefit from an applied heat source. It melts the ice inside safely and quickly.

Wrap the Pipe

A heating pad is a household item you can use to heat a pipe. Crank it up on high and wrap it around securely to transfer the heat.

Hair Dryer

Another item you probably have nearby is a hair dryer. You’ll want to blow the hot air along and around the pipe in 12 to 16-inch sections.

Hot Towels

And sometimes you don’t have anything but hot, wet towels. Wrap and rewrap the heated fabric to stay ahead of the refreeze.

Space Heater

Sacrificing a little heat for yourself can save you a headache later. Place one safely around the frozen section of the pipe. Move it around as you need to thaw the pipeline and return the water pressure to normal.

The Pipes You Can’t See

The problem might not be as easy as an exposed pipe. There are enclosed water pipelines throughout the walls and areas.

Keep the Heat Up

Just like you would prevent freezing pipes, you will crank the thermostat up as hot as you can take it. It’s the easiest way to thaw out the hidden pipes.

Expose the Pipe Yourself

Worst comes to worst; you will need to cut a hole in the wall to access the affected pipe. You can then use the methods for an exposed pipe to thaw it out.

Call a Professional Plumber

Your safest bet is calling a plumber for help. Frozen pipes can do a lot of long-term damage to a home.

And the average cost of that damage done by frozen pipes is around $18,000.

Should you drip all faucets in cold weather?

Turning on the drip of your faucet is helpful before, after, and during the coldest winter weather. 

  • The drip allows water to travel through the pipelines, preventing them from freezing.
  • The first sign you will get that your water pipes are frozen is a barely there trickle when you turn on the faucet.
  • And, once they’re frozen, even the smallest of water flow is enough to help the thawing process start.

What You Shouldn’t Do 

We’ve covered why you should drop faucets and how else to handle cold weather. But there are certain things you should avoid doing, too.

  • Don’t ever use a blowtorch, propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame sources and devices. You’re not trying to die by a house fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • If nothing seems to work and your pipes remain frozen, you will want to call a professional as soon as possible. The cost of damage will outweigh any cost of having them thawed by a plumber.

By Anita Brown

Anita Brown is our go-to contributor to our emergency preparedness website. Anita brings a wealth of personal experience and professional expertise to the table, having weathered several awful natural disasters. Anita is currently working towards obtaining her Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) certification.