FAQs for Prolonged Freezing Temperatures
Below we've listed some FAQs that address many common sub-freezing-related questions—a great first stop for prevention or "what next" steps to follow if you've already run into trouble.
How Can We Help?
Q: How can I help prevent my pipes from freezing?
A: There are a few easy steps that can be taken to reduce the chances of pipes freezing in extended cold weather. Opening the cabinet doors under the sinks in your home is one—this allows warm air to reach the pipes and prevents these areas from getting too cold. Another smart step is to keep your faucets dripping. This allows water to continually move in the pipes, making it much less likely to freeze. And if you have a crawlspace, make sure that vent covers are in place! Plugging vents prevents cold air and especially wind from blowing into the space, keeping the crawlspace above freezing.
Q: If my pipes freeze what should I do?
A: While applying heat is recommended, first and foremost, never use an open flame to try to defrost pipes. After taking all the preventative measures listed above, open your faucets and try to heat the area where the pipes are located. Space heaters can be used to heat the space if it is safe to do so. Heating pads or hair dryers are also a helpful option, as they can be used to directly apply heat to the pipes where they are frozen.
Q: What do I do if a pipe bursts?
A: If a pipe bursts in your home, turn off the main water line. Once the main line is shut off, open all faucets to drain the water out of the system. Leave the faucets open until you can have a professional make the repair and restore water service to your home.
Q: Do my crawlspace conditions play a role in pipes freezing?
A: The condition of your crawlspace can dramatically affect the protection of your water pipes. When the plumbing in your crawlspace is installed between the floor joists, for example, it should be properly surrounded by insulation. If that insulation is insufficient or damaged, it can lead to frozen pipes.
Q: How will my central air heat pump work when temperatures are below 30° F?
A: The answer to this question is heavily dependent on what type of heat pump you have in your home. Heat pumps are an exceptionally efficient way to heat and cool in moderate climates like the Pacific Northwest. But in extreme temperatures like we are experiencing this winter, it can be challenging for heat pumps to keep up with the heating demands of your home. This is especially true if your house is lacking insulation or air sealing. If you have a central air system with a heat pump, there is generally some sort of backup heat, whether it’s natural gas, propane, or electric. These systems sense the outside temperature and adjust to the most efficient and effective heating process. When it becomes cold enough to warrant a switch, the backup heat source will either take over or supplement your heat pump. We recommend setting temperature and keeping constant throughout the cold spell. It is more efficient and easier for the heat pump to maintain then to have to catch up.
Q: How will my mini-split heat pump work when temperatures are below 30° F?
A: If you have a mini-split heat pump, we recommend following the "set it and forget it" philosophy. The thermostat should be set and left at the temperature you are comfortable as the remote is not the sensing device. Turning the unit on and off can make the system work harder to recover to the set temperature (See "Should I change the way that I use my thermostat when the weather gets this cold" below) leading to longer time for it to reach the desired temperature. When the outside temperature drops below the rated temperature of the unit, the system will continue running, but at a decreased output. Different systems are rated for different outdoor temperatures with some mini-split units providing their full output at -5°F. Supplemental heat sources like a fireplace, electric heaters, or radiant heat are great ways to complement a mini-split system.
Q: Should I change the way that I use my thermostat when the weather gets this cold?
A: With any heating or cooling system, it is best to leave the thermostat at one set point. However, some people like their house to be cooler at night then in the daytime. When the temperatures get down into the 30s and below it makes it even more imperative that the house stays at a more consistent temperature. Think of your house and all the furniture, countertops, and appliances as a big heat absorber. If you normally keep your house at a comfortable 70°F but set it back to 60°F at night, your house, and everything in it cools down to 60°F. When your furnace or heat pump comes back on in the morning, it has to work extra hard to get that temperature back up to 70° because not only is it heating the air in your home, but it’s heating all of the objects in there as well. Today’s equipment is so efficient, with many models that are made to modulate the amount of heat that is being put into the home, that turning them of and on like that can actually reduce the efficiency and the lifespan of the equipment.
Q: What do I do if the condensate on my furnace freezes?
A: Condensate is a byproduct of the high efficiency heating process that needs to be expelled (or drained) for your furnace to function properly. Condensate is most often drained to the exterior, but in cases of extreme cold, that drain can become frozen and blocked.
If the condensate line becomes frozen, warming the piping with a hair dryer or heat gun can melt the blockage and allow for the condensate to flow. It is important to note that condensate is acidic, however, and should not come in contact with skin.
To reduce the chances of your condensate line refreezing, the exterior portion of the PVC piping can be insulated with weatherproof materials. Ice melt can also be spread underneath the drain line exit point to prevent ice from building up on the ground.
Q: How should I take care of my heat pump outdoor unit in the cold temperatures?
A: Any snow or other debris that may restrict airflow should be cleared. Beyond that, the heat pump outdoor unit should not need further attention. Never put anything inside of the unit, as it can damage the equipment.