Winter often means retreating to the cozy indoors to entertain friends and family over an extended holiday season. Your plumbing, though, is often the first to show signs of this increase in indoor activity. Combine cold weather conditions with the increased use of the plumbing during holiday celebrations, and problems are more likely to arise. You can avoid major issues by knowing what to watch out for.
Frozen pipes are usually the main concern with plumbing during the winter months. Both drains and water supply lines can freeze, with effects ranging from temporary inconvenience to major leaks and damages.
Pipes and water lines located in exterior walls, or in unheated spaces like basements, crawlspaces, or attics, are the most prone to freezing. If there is enough water in the pipe or line, the pipe can burst when the liquid freezes and expands. Then, the water will leak out of the plumbing after the ice thaws, causing water damage.
If you are unaware that a drain pipe has burst, or if the problem is a water line, then quite a bit of water can leak from the damaged pipe before you are aware of the problem.
Pipes can freeze when the temperature drops below 32 F. If you have cold temperatures in the forecast, first make sure your home is heated to above freezing and don’t turn off the furnace if you plan to travel over the holidays.
You should also leave water trickling slowly from all faucets and open cabinet doors so air circulates around pipes during extreme cold snaps or if you are out of town. Moving water takes longer to freeze, so if the electricity goes out or the furnace fails, leaving the tap open can still prevent the pipes from freezing.
A common problem over the holidays is that the plumbing system is overloaded by all the extra activity. Your kitchen drains usually take the brunt of the damages, but bathroom sinks and toilets can also suffer issues.
Kitchen drains, particularly if you have a garbage disposal, see heavy use with all the holiday cooking. Drain clogs in the kitchen can be a show stopper since you need a working sink in the kitchen.
In the bathroom, a similar issue can occur if guests or children flush things that shouldn’t be flushed. Extra usage can also increase the chances of hair clogs in the bathtub and sink drains.
You can prevent most kitchen clogs by monitoring what goes into the drain closely. Don’t put things like coffee grounds, bones, grease, and pasta down the drain or through the garbage disposal. Keep trash cans handy to scrape plates before washing the dishes.
In the bathroom, make sure only waste and toilet paper are flushed. Use hair catchers in sink and tub drains so that hair and soap scum clogs are less likely to be a concern.
Water Heater Failure
The last thing you want is a water heater failure when you have a houseful of guests for the holidays. Yet, the extra strain can be too much and lead to some unwanted cold showers.
The most common problem will be a lack of hot water, either because a water heater is too slow to heat or because the heater fails completely. Unless the water heater springs a leak, damages typically extend beyond the inconvenience of having no hot water on hand.
Tank-style hot water heaters have an average lifespan of 8 to 12 years. If your heater is approaching this age, you may want to discuss replacement with a plumber before the holidays so you can prevent hot water mishaps when people are visiting.
If your main concern is insufficient amounts of hot water, then hire a pro to flush and clean the tank prior to the holiday season. Often, tank capacity decreases as mineral deposits build up inside the hot water heater. A timely flush removes the sediment, which can help you regain your original tank capacity while also decreasing the chances of clogged hot water lines and heater failure.
Contact Two Men and a Snake for more help with any plumbing issues that arise this winter.