In 2013, the plumbing industry was bringing in $95 billion, and it hasn’t stopped growing. For homeowners and even renters, that means a substantial cost for water-related issues at home. Luckily, there are steps that you can take to avoid costly repairs and mid-winter disasters.
Keeping the Weather Out
Holding the warm air in and leaving cold air out is the first step in preventing plumbing problems in winter. Sealing up drafty areas, including gaps and cracks in the doors and windows of your home, can do wonders for the ambient temperature. If the air in and under your home is warm, the pipes will stay warmer too.
Fill Cracks and Holes
While exterior pipes are at the mercy of the weather, interior pipes like those under sinks and in walls benefit from an extra layer of sealant. Make sure that any gaps that allow cold air in have a sealant material in them to block out freezing temperatures.
Check and Replace Gaskets
Because rubber and other soft materials can warp due to both hot and cold weather conditions, it’s worth a quick check on your plumbing to make sure there are no existing leaks due to equipment failure. A small leak at the beginning of winter may get worse if water freezes and expands in tight areas.
Working with Water
When it comes to leaky faucets and burst pipes, a problem can quickly go from bad to worse. In a home where pipes travel through walls, inside cabinets, and underfoot, the potential for anexpensive and disastrous leak is higher in winter than any other season.
Use Freeze-Proof Faucets
For water that runs outside your home, such as a garden hose or outdoor spigot, consider installing freeze-proof faucets. These types of fixtures block the water far away from the spigot and keep it close to the main line underneath your home where conditions are warmer. This prevents freezing and potential burst pipes in crawl spaces and basements.
Let the Water Run
A simple trick that helps prevent frozen water lines and broken pipes is letting faucets run through the night. Even a slight drip from a faucet will keep water flowing and prevent it from freezing. However, this is not the ideal solution to preventing freezing because it can increase your utility bills and wastes water.
Still, if you can recycle the water for plants or pets, this is a helpful option for the interim while you work on other water-thawing measures.
Warming Up Chilly Pipes
The main problem with the plumbing in winter is that the pipes are cold. The simplest solution is to warm them up. There are a few ways to warm your pipes and avoid paying for new ones later.
During the day, when you’re heating your home for comfort, the pipes in your walls and under the floor are nearly as warm as you are. At night, when your heating system is set lower or is off completely, you might be cozy in bed while the pipes reach freezing temperatures. Depending on the climate, the drastic change in temperature overnight can result in swollen pipes full of ice, a tragic scenario when someone flushes a toilet the next morning.
Maintaining a consistent temperature in your home helps to level out fluctuations in the warmth of the pipes. Also, setting the central heat in the house to support temperatures well above freezing, even while you’re away, guarantees that you won’t come home to a plumbing tragedy.
Another way to ensure your pipes stay warm is to use insulation to wrap them. From spray insulation to sheets of material that are like blankets for pipes, there are options for any plumbing situation. The Red Cross recommends insulation as a helpful step to protect pipes from freezing.
If you can’t manage to get into an attic space or find a way to insulate pipes in the wall, spray insulation may help. In other cases, wrapping pipes under your home in sheets of insulation may provide enough warmth to avoid plumbing problems later.
Although they are in season for only a few months of the year, air conditioner units use nearly 6 percent of all the electricity produced in the United States, according to Energy.gov. Beyond the cost of powering your AC unit, there are also expenses involved with purchase and maintenance. While an air conditioning unit’s main job is to cool a home during the summer, putting it to work during the off-season helps get the most for your money.
Regular System Maintenance
Odds are, a brand-new air conditioner will last at least a decade of regular use. That said, when part of the system has a flaw, you don’t want to find out about it in 110-degree weather midsummer. Therefore, it’s essential to maintain your air conditioner unit through all four seasons, not only the one that puts it in high demand.
How Do Air Conditioners Work?
Air conditioning units use the same methods of cooling as your refrigerator. They transfer heat from inside your home into the outside environment. Cooling comes from an evaporator, which is a cold indoor coil. A hot outdoor coil releases the heat outside.
How Stuff Works explains that the original air conditioner concept was not intended to cool the air, but rather to “condition” it and reduce moisture in the air at a publishing company that used layered ink techniques. Blowing inside air across cold pipes cooled the air, reducing the amount of moisture it could carry.
The result was much like the air conditioner concept we still use in modern times. However, today’s use of the technology focuses on cooling more than conditioning.
Normally, all this cooling and dispersing action happens flawlessly. But to get the most out of your air conditioning machine, schedule regular maintenance, including checking for debris on the outside of the unit, as well as running it periodically in the off-season.
Although most air conditioners can handle outdoor temperatures and inclement weather, animals and heavy objects like tree branches can wreak havoc. You can choose to cover and winterize your AC unit or leave it open if you live in a mild climate. Avoid use if it’s raining or snowing, since uncovering the appliance may allow moisture into your home through the vents.
Starting the unit up for a brief period during cold yet dry weather is also helpful for preventing serious maintenance issues. An improperly winterized unit may rust or mold, meaning you’re losing money on your investment. Ensuring that the AC hasn’t sustained damage now means that you’ll be ready come spring and summer heat waves.
Humidity Has Its Hazards
While most people use their AC strictly during summertime to cool off, they don’t often think about the changes that the machine makes to the humidity inside the house. With this perspective, the benefits of running the AC in the winter time are more apparent.
Conditioning the Air
Because of the air conditioner’s original application as a “conditioner” rather than a cooling system, these units do condition the air. In winter months, homes often feel humid, and the air becomes stagnant. As we attempt to stay warm, we inadvertently trap moisture inside.
If you have ever traced your fingers across a steamed-up window pane, then you have experienced this scenario at home. The pitfall to staying toasty warm is that this creates moisture that can harbor bacteria and mold. If your home has proper ventilation, pent-up moisture may not cause concern.
However, if you notice a lot of moisture on windows in your house, switching on the AC for a short period can help balance the moisture inside. Even better, leaving the AC’s fan running is a solution that doesn’t pit the appliance against your furnace, but it allows the warm air to circulate.
Plus, lowering the humidity in the house can prevent moisture damage to more than those soggy windows. Maintaining airflow is vital in avoiding warping and distortion of the interior of the house due to excess dampness.