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Howard County offers tips on how to keep pipes from freezing as temperatures dip

January 11, 2016

Media Contacts:
Mark Miller, Administrator, Office of Public Information, 410-313-2022
Stephen Gerwin, Chief, Bureau of Utilities, Department of Public Works, 410-313-4900

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – With below freezing temperatures headed toward our region this week, particularly at night, Howard County Government’s Bureau of Utilities is offering residents tips on how to keep pipes from freezing and potentially bursting.

“Pipes freezing is just one of the many problems that can plague homeowners during the winter months,” said Utility Bureau Chief Stephen Gerwin. “With just a few simple steps, residents can protect their pipes and ultimately their homes from unwanted damage.”

Water pipes located on or next to an outside wall are subjected to sub-freezing temperatures, as are pipes located in a garage or any other unheated building. To help combat this problem and reduce the probability of your pipes freezing, the County’s Bureau of Utilities recommends the following:

  • Wrap or insulate exposed pipes susceptible to low temperatures.
  • Utilize other devices, such as heat tape, to help keep pipes from freezing.
  • Leave hot and cold water dripping on nights when temperatures dip below 15°F.
  • Some pipes, such as those located in cabinets, may be situated against an outside wall, while they may be insulated, residents should leave cabinet doors open to allow heat in the room to keep pipes warm and prevent freezing.

The Bureau also suggests:

  • Turn off and drain outside hose bibs.
  • Know where the main water cutoff valve is and how it works.
  • Seal air leaks that allow icy blasts to reach pipes.
  • For homes with crawl spaces, close outside air vents located in the foundation wall during extremely cold temperatures to keep exposed plumbing from freezing.
  • If you have a programmable thermostat, consider leaving it at a constant temperature, never below 45°F.
  • If you are going on an extended vacation, set your thermostat to at least 45°F or above.

Also, to help keep county fire hydrants from freezing and help prevent street flooding, residents are asked to shovel out fire hydrants in their neighborhood that are covered or obstructed by snow, as well as keeping obstacles, such as snow, away from storm water runoff drains.

If your pipes do freeze, the Bureau recommends opening the cold water faucet nearest the frozen pipe to relieve pressure. Then, use a gentle heat source, such as a light bulb or hair dryer, to thaw the pipe. DO NOT use an open flame.

Residents are further reminded if you lose water or experience sewage back-up in your home, call the County first to determine if there is a break in the water main or a blockage in the sewer main beyond your property. During regular business hours, residents are instructed to call the Bureau of Utilities at 410-313-4900. After hours and on the weekends, call Central Dispatch at 410-313-2929 which will then notify a county utility worker.