Skip to main content

DIY Plumbing: Frozen Water Pipes and Main Shutoff Valves

Be Prepared for Plumbing Emergencies

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 shutoff 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 areas 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.

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.

Again, it is a good idea to label which direction is "OFF." Usually the rule "righty tighty/lefty loosey" is 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.

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.

How to Avoid Frozen Pipes

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 the 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, Lowe's, or other hardware store.

Self-Stick Insulation Tape

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 voila—your pipes are insulated.

Tube Foam Insulation

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.

Heat Tape

The third choice, heat tape, is a bit more involved because it must be plugged into an electric outlet. Heat tape is good for pipes that 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.

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. Before the ground freezes in winter, drain water out of lawn sprinkler systems and turn off the water to outside faucets by using the water shutoff 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 a 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 you suddenly 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, then apply heat to the pipe starting from the faucet and working your way along the pipe. Use a hairdryer 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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2011 Mrs. Menagerie


Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on January 24, 2013:

Very good idea eugbug!

Eugene Brennan from Ireland on January 23, 2013:

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 (author) from The Zoo on August 10, 2012: long as they have not yet burst!

furniturez from Washington on August 08, 2012:

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 (author) from The Zoo on July 31, 2012:

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

Shawn Spencer on July 25, 2012:

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.

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on February 03, 2012:

Good idea!

Toolsonline from Up to my Neck in it! on February 02, 2012:

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 (author) from The Zoo on October 22, 2011:

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

FLUSSIG on October 18, 2011:

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

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on September 07, 2011:

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

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on September 03, 2011:

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 (author) from The Zoo on September 02, 2011:

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

Kevin55 on September 01, 2011:

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

Field-Of-Flowers from Midwest, USA on September 01, 2011:

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

Sandi from Greenfield, Wisconsin on September 01, 2011:

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 on September 01, 2011:

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

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on September 01, 2011:

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.


Barbara Anne Helberg from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA on September 01, 2011:

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

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

Capgunsonline on September 01, 2011:

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

Louise Fiolek from Calgary, AB, Canada on September 01, 2011:

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!


bluebird on September 01, 2011:

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 on September 01, 2011:

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.

Carrie Smith from Dallas, Texas on September 01, 2011:

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 on September 01, 2011:

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 on September 01, 2011:

Great Hub Menagerie, thanks to share & Congrats.

Elissa Joyce from US on September 01, 2011:

Hey Menagerie, Congrats!

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on August 30, 2011:

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.

India Arnold from Northern, California on August 29, 2011:

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!



Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on August 29, 2011:

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 (author) from The Zoo on August 28, 2011:

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

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on August 28, 2011:

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

Useful and vote up !!!

Mrs. Menagerie (author) from The Zoo on August 28, 2011:

Hi SummerSurf,

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

SummerSurf on August 27, 2011:

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.