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Preparing for the cold: How to protect your pipes

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - The big story of the morning in Tennessee Valley is the bitter cold.

Meteorologist Ben Smith has a detailed blog post on the temperatures expected throughout the day.

The cold is more than uncomfortable.  It can also be expensive and cause pipes to freeze and burst.

Here in the south, the threshold temperature for most pipes is about 20 degrees.

Pipes that run against exterior walls are especially vulnerable to freezing.

The same holds true for pipes in unheated interior areas like basements, crawl spaces, garages and even kitchen cabinets.

The problem occurs when the water expands as it freezes.  No matter what your pipes are made of, whether plastic or metal, the water can cause them to break.

So, here are some recommendations from the Red Cross:

  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to let warmer air circulate around the plumbing
  • Remember to put any dangerous products you may have stored there out of the reach of small children
  • Let the cold water drip from the faucet served by the exposed pipes
  • Keep your thermostat at the same temperature day and night

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, you can be pretty sure a pipe has frozen.

If that happens, here are some recommendations about what to do next:

  • Keep the faucet open to help melt the ice
  • Apply heat to the pipe using an electric heating pad, a hair dryer or by wrapping the pipes with towels soaked in hot water.
  • Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene heater or any other open-flame device to warm pipes

If none of these things work, it's probably time to call a licensed professional.

But for right now, go ahead and open those cabinets, and let the faucet drip.