The same natural forces that trigger cold-weather breaks in Denver Water's more than 3,000 miles of underground mains can cause pipes to burst in your own household. Here are some tips for avoiding costly damage.
Before cold weather hits
Know the location of your water shut-off valve and test it regularly
If a pipe breaks, you won't want to have to find it then or, worse, wait for someone to arrive at your place to find it for you. In most single-family homes, the shut-off valve is in the basement or the crawl space, on a wall facing the street.
Keep your meter pit and curb stop valve accessible
If you cannot operate your shut-off valve inside the building, you may need to have your plumber or Denver Water turn off the water at the curb valve near the street. Many valves cannot be operated because they have seized up over the years, or because they are inaccessible because the valve box is full of debris or out of line. Be sure your property has a curb valve, you know where it is, and the valve box is clear of debris, vertical and centered over the valve.
Turn off and drain automatic and manual sprinkler systems before first freeze.
You'll thank yourself in the spring. The alternate freezing and thawing of water in the system can create cracks and weak spots, triggering silent underground leaks or mini-geysers.
Turn off outdoor faucets and be sure to disconnect hoses from them.
Make sure the faucet and the outside portion of the pipes are fully drained. A valve inside many houses will shut off the water's flow; then open and close the tap outside to release any water in the pipe. Disconnect the hose to ensure that freeze-proof faucets will drain and to avoid damage to the hose from freezing water.
Winterize unheated or vacant buildings.
Significant property damage and water loss can occur before burst pipes are discovered in vacant buildings. If your vacant building has a fire protection system, make sure there is no danger that the water servicing this system might freeze.
Insulate water pipes that may be vulnerable to the cold or have caused problems before.
Pipes close to exterior walls or in unheated basements can be wrapped with pieces of insulation. Don't overlook pipes near windows, which can quickly freeze. For particularly difficult pipes, consult a professional on how to select and apply heat tape. Pay special attention to indoor water meters. If the meter freezes, it can cause your basement to flood, and Denver Water will have to replace the meter (at your cost) before you will have water again. Caution: Improper use of heat tape can cause fires. Never put heat tape on the water meter to avoid damaging plastic components of the meter.
During a deep freeze (-5 degrees and below)
Keep open cabinet doors leading to exposed pipes (such as access doors for sinks), so that household air can warm them.
The natural flow of warmer air will help combat many problems.
If you have an attached garage, keep its doors shut.
Occasionally, plumbing is routed through this unheated space, leaving it vulnerable to winter's worst.
Crack a faucet farthest from the place where your water enters the house.
A very slow drip will keep water molecules moving, reducing the chance that pipes will freeze. Place a bucket underneath the faucet so the water can be saved for other household uses.
Keep your thermostat set above 65 degrees when leaving your house or business for several days.
If you think a pipe has already frozen
Don't wait for nature to take its course:
Thaw the pipe as soon as possible or call a plumber for help.
If you do it yourself, shut off the water or test the shut-off valve.
You don't want water suddenly gushing from the pipe when it thaws.
Remember: When thawing things, slower is better.
Pipes warmed too fast may break.
A hair dryer trained at the frozen area of the pipe is appropriate. A blow torch is not. See more tips on thawing a frozen water pipe.