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Dripping faucets in freezing weather prevents bursts
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Homeowners may be wary of wasting water by allowing faucets to drip as a precaution during freezing weather, but they must weigh the cost of higher water bills against the much larger expense of repairing burst pipes.
Jason Barrett, assistant Extension professor with the Extension Center for Government and Community Development at Mississippi State University, works with utility providers across the state and regularly discusses how costs determine consumer habits. Barrett encourages smart, economic water usage but suggests erring on the side of caution when temperatures fall enough for pipes to freeze.
“The water bill going up is the last thing people need to worry about,” Barrett said. “If you were to leave one or two faucets dripping every night during a cold month, it might result in an extra $2. That amount pales in comparison to how much it would cost just for a plumber’s service call before labor charges.”
With one of the strongest El Nino patterns in recent winters projected to continue through the season, there could be several temperature drops over the next two months that require dripping at least one faucet inside homes and keeping outside faucets covered.
“During an El Nino period, the Southeastern U.S. generally experiences temperatures 2 to 3 degrees below normal with more precipitation than usual,” said Mike Brown, state climatologist and professor of geosciences at MSU. “The current outlook has this region overall cooler than normal for the next three months, with the greatest chill in January and the first two-thirds of February.”
A primary indicator of whether to keep faucets dripping overnight is not just how low temperatures are expected to drop but how long they are expected to be 32 degrees or below.
“When it hits freezing at sunset and is going to stay below that temperature all night, to me that’s a sign that it’s time to make sure faucets are dripping inside and covered outside the house,” Barrett said. “Open cabinet doors to sinks in the kitchen and bathroom to let heat inside the house reach those pipes.”
Another factor to consider is the age and condition of a house. Owners of older homes with copper pipes should consider taking extra steps, such as using foam insulators or pipe wrap. Depending on how low temperatures dip, PVC pipes can also freeze and burst.
“If you don’t have insulated pipes, I would suggest leaving the shower or bathtub dripping as well,” Barrett said. “If you’ve got water dripping inside the house, a faucet cover on outside faucets should be sufficient unless those pipes are exposed.”
Know the location of cutoffs to all water lines in the house. Also locate the valve to the master shutoff in case of a broken pipe so it can be turned off immediately to avoid water damage to the structure.
“Properly installed faucets and water lines will have a cutoff above the floor inside the house,” Barrett said. “You should be able to cut off water access and isolate the line.”