Precautions will prevent plumbing headaches caused by winter weather

Jan. 10—MOSES LAKE — It's going to be cold outside for the next few days — like, single-digit cold — and that can mean bad things for water pipes. And bad things for water pipes mean bad things for homeowners and tenants.

The nature of water makes really cold weather a potential problem for pipes on outside walls. Water expands as it freezes, and a water pipe only has so much room; if the ice expands too much it will break the pipe. And even if the pipe doesn't break, there's no water.

Even with the cold weather right here, there are precautions residents can take to keep pipes from freezing, starting with a walk outside. Heather Calder of Comfort Experts Plumbing, Moses Lake, said any outdoor hoses that are still connected should be disconnected. It's also a good idea to cover the outdoor faucets, she said.

People who didn't do that may not discover there's a problem until spring, Calder said, when they start using the outside water. That's when the leak appears.

The American Red Cross website also suggests disconnecting outside hoses, and there's an extra precaution if the outside faucet isn't covered.

"Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break," the Red Cross website said.

Inside the house, Calder said residents should check the pipes that are on an outside wall. She cautioned that weather conditions, like a cold wind from the wrong direction, can cause trouble for any house, even one that's well insulated.

Luckily people can take precautions that are pretty simple. Calder and Alex Kottwiez of Prevision Plumbing, Moses Lake, said people should open the doors to the cabinet under a kitchen or bathroom sink, to allow warm air to circulate. Kottweiz and Calder said residents also can leave a faucet dripping to keep the water moving.

Pipe insulation also is available at most hardware stores.

"Use pipe insulation liberally to protect vulnerable pipes," according to the Consumer Reports website.

Alas, sometimes pipes freeze. In that case, Kottweiz said the best way to go is to call a plumber.

Calder said there are some things residents can do if the pipe is frozen under the sink, for instance, and the plumber isn't available for a while.

"The hardest part is finding out where it's frozen," she said.

If it's under the sink or in an accessible place a hairdryer or another heat source can help — but never, ever an open flame, according to the website Quora.

"It's basically just getting heat on the pipes," Calder said.

According to the Quora website, most of the time a pipe that breaks announces itself, usually with a bang — and when temperatures rise, with a leak.

"Water won't stop until someone stops it somehow," the Quora website said.

To do that, the website suggests following the sound of running water until the resident locates the source.

"Follow that pipe through the house toward the street (where the water source comes into the house, the street at the front of the building in the lowest floor. Shut any and every valve you can find," the Quora website said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at