DIY Plumbing: Frozen Water Pipes and Main Shut Off Valves

Updated on May 30, 2016

Be Prepared!

First and foremost, it is always wise to be prepared for a plumbing emergency such as a pipe bursting in your home. Water damage can be extremely costly, not to mention inconvenient. Should you suddenly find yourself in a rapidly flooding home, knowing how to stop the deluge quickly could make all the difference. Do you know where the main water shut off valve is located in your house or apartment? Would you be able to get to it quickly and turn it off when seconds count?

Main Water Valve

You will usually find the main water valve in a basement, crawlspace or other utility area where the main water line enters the home. It is helpful to find and label this valve to be ready for an emergency. Also, it is a good idea to mark the direction to turn it off with a permanent marker or masking tape; remember that seconds will count if a pipe bursts in your home.

Which Valve is the Main Water Shut-Off Valve?

There are 2 red valves and 1 green valve in this photo; do you know which is which?
There are 2 red valves and 1 green valve in this photo; do you know which is which?
The top left red is the main water shut-off valve.  The other red valve shuts off the lawn sprinkler system and the green valve is actually to drain the sprinkler pipes for the winter.
The top left red is the main water shut-off valve. The other red valve shuts off the lawn sprinkler system and the green valve is actually to drain the sprinkler pipes for the winter.
Main Water Shut Off Valve
Main Water Shut Off Valve

Fixture Stop Valves


Another way to shut off water to a specific fixture, is by using the stop valves directly leading to that fixture. Look under sinks and toilets, behind washing machines or next to dishwashers and hot water heaters.

Where To Find Stop Valves

Stop valves under a bathroom sink
Stop valves under a bathroom sink
Stop valve next to toilet
Stop valve next to toilet
Stop valve next to to dishwasher (on left) and under kitchen sink (right.)
Stop valve next to to dishwasher (on left) and under kitchen sink (right.)
Stop valve to water heater
Stop valve to water heater
Stop valves behind pedistal sink
Stop valves behind pedistal sink

Again, it is a good idea to label which direction is "off:" Usually the rule "tighty righty/ lefty loosey" as accurate. Use the fixture stop valves when it is clear that the water is coming from that specific source. The rest of your home will still have water in these situations.

Keep Pipes Insulated. Plumbing supplies can be found at Home Depot, Lowes and other hardware stores.

Wrap tube foam sleeves or self-stick insulating tape around pipes to insulate them.
Wrap tube foam sleeves or self-stick insulating tape around pipes to insulate them.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Of course, preventing problems in the first place is just as important as knowing what to do when one arises. One of the biggest factors leading to a burst line is a pipe or pipes that have frozen. To avoid frozen pipes, the first step is to ensure that your pipes, especially the pipes along an outer wall of your home, are properly insulated. Fortunately, insulating pipes is a fairly simple task. There are three main ways to insulate your pipes: self-stick insulation tape, tube foam insulation or heat tape. All three are available at your local Home Depot, Lowes or other hardware store.

Self-stick pipe insulating tape can be purchased at any hardware store. Simply spiral the tape around your pipes to cover them adequately. Trim with scissors and wha-la: your pipes are insulated.

Tube foam sleeves can also be purchased at any hardware store. Choose from fiberglass, wool-felt or plastic foam sleeves. Cut and customize them to fit longer pipes, then seal the gaps with insulating tape or duct tape.

The third choice, heat tape, is a bit more involved because it must be plugged in to an electric outlet. Heat tape is good for pipes which are exposed to extremely cold conditions such as external pipes or those in uninsulated outer walls. Wrap the tape in a spiral around the pipe and then plug it into an outlet. Many heat tapes can be pre-programmed to turn on automatically at a certain temperature.

Turn off water to lawn sprinklers and drain the water from them before the ground freezes in winter.

Valve to shut off lawn sprinkler system
Valve to shut off lawn sprinkler system
Valve or spigot to drain lawn sprinkler system
Valve or spigot to drain lawn sprinkler system

Winterize Your Pipes

Late in the autumn, it is important to disconnect your garden hoses to prevent pipes from freezing just inside the hose spigot. Drain water out of lawn sprinkler systems and turn off water to outside faucets by using the water shut off valve that leads to them.

Seal air leaks that lead into crawlspaces or external walls that may allow freezing air around pipes. Use caulking or store bought insulation to block leaks.

On extremely cold nights, leave water trickling a tiny bit from faucets on outer walls. Also, leave cabinet doors open to allow heat to reach pipes under sinks and other fixtures. Again, outer wall plumbing is the concern here. Keep your heat at a constant temperature day and night. Note: if you live in a very cold climate, your home was probably built with no outer wall pipes.

If you leave home during winter months, it is very important to leave your heat on at minimum of 55°F or 12°C. Also, it is a good idea to have someone check on your house regularly. You wouldn't want to return from vacation to find your basement has become a swimming pool...would you?

Unfreezing Frozen Pipes

If it is freezing outside and suddenly you have no water, chances are that you've got a frozen pipe. It is not too late at this point to prevent a burst pipe.

Leave the faucet turned on; now apply heat to the pipe starting from the faucet and working your way along the pipe. Use a hair dryer and/ or a heating pad wrapped around the pipe. Stop applying heat as soon as water starts to flow again but leave water running slowly for a while to melt all of the ice built up in the pipe. Go back and check the pipes for leaks that may not have shown up immediately. You may want to leave the water running at a tiny trickle if the weather remains frigid so that your pipes don't refreeze.

Questions & Answers

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      • Mrs. Menagerie profile imageAUTHOR

        Mrs. Menagerie 

        5 years ago from The Zoo

        Very good idea eugbug!

      • eugbug profile image

        Eugene Brennan 

        5 years ago from Ireland

        If shut off valves are gate valve types(which turn off like a faucet), rather than quadrant ball valves(the ones which turn 90 degrees to shut off), it is a good idea to "exercise" them every year by turning them off and then on again to prevent seizure.

        Great info here and voted up!

      • Mrs. Menagerie profile imageAUTHOR

        Mrs. Menagerie 

        5 years ago from The Zoo

        Yup...as long as they have not yet burst!

      • furniturez profile image

        furniturez 

        5 years ago from Washington

        Had no idea that frozen pipes were just a matter of taking a blow dryer to them... much easier than I was expecting!

      • Mrs. Menagerie profile imageAUTHOR

        Mrs. Menagerie 

        5 years ago from The Zoo

        There are pros and cons of each...keeping them from getting too cold in the first place is key.

      • profile image

        Shawn Spencer 

        5 years ago

        Do most plumbers recommend plastic or metal pipes to avoid frozen pipes in the winter? Does it make a difference? I was under the impression that metal pipes generally maintain a temperature below the current spacial temperature. http://www.academymechanical.com

      • Mrs. Menagerie profile imageAUTHOR

        Mrs. Menagerie 

        6 years ago from The Zoo

        Good idea!

      • Toolsonline profile image

        Toolsonline 

        6 years ago from Up to my Neck in it!

        Very handy tips, also make sure that you try all of your taps and valves from time to time as you really don't want to find that they have seized up when you really need them to work.

      • Mrs. Menagerie profile imageAUTHOR

        Mrs. Menagerie 

        6 years ago from The Zoo

        Hi Flussig...thanks for reading and commenting, much appreciated!

      • FLUSSIG profile image

        FLUSSIG 

        6 years ago

        Excellent one for the cold season coming! First cold day in Atlanta tomorrow!

      • Mrs. Menagerie profile imageAUTHOR

        Mrs. Menagerie 

        6 years ago from The Zoo

        Thanks for the tips MsLizzy! Gas shut off valves fall under the same rule...parallel is on. Always good to remember these things! :-)

      • DzyMsLizzy profile image

        Liz Elias 

        6 years ago from Oakley, CA

        Good job! Congrats on Hub of the Day!

        Where we live, it does not snow, and it is rare for the temps to drop to or below freezing. However, it does happen rarely. We have our main sprinkler manifold for the landscape watering well wrapped in foam, however, and the pipes are buried about knee-deep, so below any frost line. That is a good depth if you are installing new sprinklers.

        The way to remember how to turn off the lever-type valves is easy: parallel to the pipe is on; at right-angles to the pipe is off. (The same applies for gas valves.)

        I remember in older homes, there were shutoff valves for every fixture EXCEPT the kitchen sink...for that, you had to shut off the water to the house. Bah! When we remodeled our kitchen, I made sure to remedy that!

        Voted up & useful.

      • Mrs. Menagerie profile imageAUTHOR

        Mrs. Menagerie 

        6 years ago from The Zoo

        Wow...thank you so much all y'all!!!! I really appreciate the comments and votes so so so so much!

      • profile image

        Kevin55 

        6 years ago

        This is incredible!!!! I've never had to deal with freezing pipes before,

        http://technorati.com/tag/evening-dresses

      • Field-Of-Flowers profile image

        Field-Of-Flowers 

        6 years ago from Midwest, USA

        Congrats for being hub of the day! Very useful information here. Thanks for sharing!

      • pedrn44 profile image

        Sandi 

        6 years ago from Greenfield, Wisconsin

        Congrats on being Hub of the Day. This is very useful. Unfortunately winter is around the corner. Whereas I hope my pipes don't freeze, in the event that happens at least I'll now know what to do. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.

      • anglnwu profile image

        anglnwu 

        6 years ago

        Congrats on being selected hub of the day. I can see why--clear explaination with great pictures--a clear winner. Thanks for sharing.

      • J.S.Matthew profile image

        JS Matthew 

        6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

        Congratulations on being selected for the Hub of the Day!

        This is very informative for finding shut-off valves, especially the Main Valve from the street! Awesome photos and great job! I'll vote up and share.

        JSMatthew~

      • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

        Barbara Anne Helberg 

        6 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

        @Mrs. Menagerie...Congratulations on the Hub of the Day award!

        This is nicely done with great basic information, photos, and illustration.

      • Capgunsonline profile image

        Capgunsonline 

        6 years ago

        Glad you covered the basics. I think everyone should read this article!!!! Great job!

      • Cloverleaf profile image

        Cloverleaf 

        6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

        Awesome hub, Mrs Menagerie, and so well laid out that even I can understand (and I'm pretty clueless when it comes to plumbing lol). Congratulations on Hub of the Day, I'm voted this one UP, interesting AND useful!

        Cloverleaf.

      • bluebird profile image

        bluebird 

        6 years ago

        Good pictures for explaining just what you're talking about. This should come in handy after the summer and fall are over and winter is upon us once again. Thanks!

      • FloraBreenRobison profile image

        FloraBreenRobison 

        6 years ago

        Congratulations on being hub of the day. I remember when I was 13 I had a large party planned at a hall we rented. Well, my birthday is in February and the pipes froze there. Luckily this was several days before my birthday and another place was available to move the party there. Oh, the joys of having a birthday in the wintertime.

      • applecsmith profile image

        Carrie Smith 

        6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

        Congratulations on being the Hub of the Day. This is a fantastic post, and the information is well laid out and detailed. The pictures are amazing too! Thank you for sharing. Voted up and awesome.

      • J Burgraff profile image

        J Burgraff 

        6 years ago

        What a timely hub. This is just the most basic information for homeowners, but it's amazing how many people don't think to familiarize themselves with this info then panic when it happens...and it always happens at some point. thanks!

      • alvinalex profile image

        alvinalex 

        6 years ago

        Great Hub Menagerie, thanks to share & Congrats.

      • Elissa Joyce profile image

        Elissa Joyce 

        6 years ago from US

        Hey Menagerie, Congrats!

      • Mrs. Menagerie profile imageAUTHOR

        Mrs. Menagerie 

        6 years ago from The Zoo

        Hello Simone and K9 and thanks!

        Last year we had an unusually cold week (-30F) and many had pipes burst in there homes and businesses. Even the school had issues. It really brought some of this to the fore front for me. Luckily, we had no problems in our home.

      • K9keystrokes profile image

        India Arnold 

        6 years ago from Northern, California

        What a great hub Mrs. M! I bet in Montana you guys have extensive experience with frozen pipes! We get them once n a while here in California, so your tips will be very handy when the winter frost rolls around!

        Oh and congrats!

        Cheers~

        K9

      • Simone Smith profile image

        Simone Haruko Smith 

        6 years ago from San Francisco

        This is incredible!!!! I've never had to deal with freezing pipes before, but should I ever find myself managing property in a colder region, I am going to be returning STRAIGHT to your Hub! Your advice and photos are so helpful!

      • Mrs. Menagerie profile imageAUTHOR

        Mrs. Menagerie 

        6 years ago from The Zoo

        Thanks Tom...I wish my little drawing could have been more like your quality of drawing!!!!

      • kashmir56 profile image

        Thomas Silvia 

        6 years ago from Massachusetts

        This is all great information and advice to help with frozen pipes and pipes that burst .

        Useful and vote up !!!

      • Mrs. Menagerie profile imageAUTHOR

        Mrs. Menagerie 

        6 years ago from The Zoo

        Hi SummerSurf,

        I know just what you mean...last winter was a pretty rough one here too!

      • SummerSurf profile image

        SummerSurf 

        6 years ago

        This'll come in very useful for many people in the UK if we get a winter like last year! Thanks. Plenty of good pictures.

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