Preventing Frozen Pipes: Avoiding Every Property Owner’s Nightmare

Knowing how to prevent frozen pipes will help you protect your properties from major disasters and damage.

When pipes freeze in your rental properties, the results can be disastrous. Prevention is the key to averting crisis. Property managers and landlords can take plenty of steps to ward off disaster. Educate your renters on preventing frozen pipes and the signs to watch for before it’s too late. Here’s what every building owner needs to know.

 

This outdoor drainage pipe is clogged with frozen water, creating hanging icicles which could risk causing frozen pipe disasters.Frozen pipes are often at the forefront of every building manager’s mind in the winter. While a freeze is most common in cold climates, it’s certainly not limited to the upper Midwest. Frozen pipes often occur in warmer areas during a sudden cold snap because buildings aren’t built with cold weather in mind. Pipes can freeze any time the weather turns chilly.

For building managers and property owners, this presents a precarious situation. As the landlord, you may be liable for any damages caused by improper pipe installation and care. Not only could you face damages and expenses incurred to your building’s structure, but you may also be held responsible for damages to tenants’ personal property. As mandated under federal, state, and local laws, explore your landlord and tenant rights to know where you stand should a flood occur.

Meanwhile, when it comes to frozen pipes, prevention is vital. Should a pipe burst, you may be facing a major flood on your property. Take proper steps to avoid disaster. Preventing frozen pipes isn’t hard, and it can save you from significant trouble down the road.

8 Steps for Preventing Frozen Pipes Year-Round

Add Heat Tape & Additional Insulation

The first step to preventing frozen pipes is to check that pipes are properly insulated before colder weather hits. Spring, summer, or early fall are all perfect times for protecting your pipes by adding simple heat tape and additional insulation.

Heat tape (also known as trace heating) runs along the pipe and regulates the temperature with a small electrical current. The pipe is typically covered with thermal insulation as well. Trace heating is generally safe for PVC pipes, provided it has an automatic thermostat.

Increased insulation can also protect pipes, particularly in the basement, attic, and storage areas. Check the insulated areas in your building to determine if pipes are sufficiently covered. Exposed pipes, particularly on outer walls, are at greater risk of freezing.

Inspect Pipes and Surrounding Areas

During warmer months, take time to inspect pipes throughout your building thoroughly. Watch for any leaks or areas of concern. Pay particular attention to water stains and small leaks reported by tenants. Again, the time to address these leaks is during warmer weather.

Inspect and repair any cracks or drafts near your pipes. Caulking or using a foam sealant can prevent the spread of cold, icy air. Inspect your weather stripping, particularly in vacant units, to ensure your building provides plenty of protection for your pipes. Keep up on minor repairs, which will help you attract good tenants.

Drain Outside Lines

Drain all outside lines at the end of the summer season, including sprinklers and hoses. As you’re winterizing your machines and equipment, check your grounds for any areas of concern. If your building has any water features, a hot tub, or a pool, thoroughly drain, cover, and prepare for winter. Outdoor pipes are highly susceptible to freezing, as are pipes on outside walls, so inspect your property and grounds.

Clean your gutters and downspouts and thoroughly inspect the roof of your building for any leaks or pools of water that may indicate a drainage issue as part of your building maintenance routine. It’s essential to identify the cause of any leaks in your building and address them now. Early detection of frozen pipes prevents bursting. If you or your tenants aren’t sure about the cause of a leak, it may be ignored or brushed off until you’re facing a flood.

Check Digital Thermometers

An outdoor thermometer that displays temperatures below zero could indicate there's a risk of frozen pipes in your apartment buildingIf you’ve placed digital thermometers near your pipes or outside walls, check the batteries before the season begins to ensure batteries are in good working condition. In addition, a digital thermometer can alert you if temperatures fall into a lower zone where you should be concerned about the possibility of pipes freezing.

Building managers are wise to consider an inexpensive remote temperature monitor, especially if you spend much time off-site. Remote sensors start at $50, and more complex devices go up from there, but it’s well worth the investment. A remote temperature monitor uses a digital thermometer to measure changes in the temperature surrounding your pipes. The thermometer sends alerts to your phone (or computer) if temperatures drop while you’re off-site.

Service Equipment Regularly

Service all your building equipment regularly, but put special focus on your boiler system, water heater, and heating devices. If your building uses electric or radiant heat, it’s a good idea to have a technician come out to inspect your equipment well before winter. It’s a good rule of thumb to request a technician visit at least once a year, especially when monitoring multiple buildings and sites.

A broken pipe or equipment failure can leave your residents without heat, hot water, or worse. Depending on your state and local laws, you could be liable for any damage or associated repairs if you didn’t take proper precautions. If you need to have your commercial water heater serviced, don’t hesitate to call a Reliable Water Services technician, available 24/7.

Teach Tenants the Signs of Possible Frozen Pipes

Communication is critical. You can’t assume your tenants know what to do when the temperature drops. Once winter arrives, teach your tenants the signs of frozen pipes. Many people think frozen pipes won’t produce any water, but that’s not always the case. Freezing may diminish the pressure, and water may slow to a trickle, but they may still have some water. Tenants should immediately report any water pressure concerns or changes to the building manager.

Another sign is a strange smell emitting from the drain or seeing water backup. If water can’t flow freely out of the pipes, it will stay in the drains, causing an odor. Drain odors could also indicate a clogged pipe, so urge tenants to report any issues they notice. Frost on the pipes is another significant indicator that the pipes are too cold. Lastly, your tenants should also report any leaks or water spots. A pipe may crack rather than burst, leaving you with a slow leak. Your tenants are your first line of defense when it comes to detecting frozen pipes before it’s too late. Urge them to contact you rather than attempt to heat the pipe and resolve the issue themselves.

Instruct tenants to contact you immediately if a pipe were to burst. If a disaster happens, the first step is to turn the water off at the main shutoff valve (at the water meter or entry point). Then notify tenants of a water outage and contact a plumber right away.

Set a Drip in Vacant Units

Setting kitchen and bathroom faucets to drip in vacant units can help prevent frozen pipe disasters.Even a slow, small drip will prevent the pipes from freezing. Set a faucet to drip as far from where pipes enter the unit from outside as possible to ensure water runs throughout the entire system. If the whole building is vacant, drain the system by shutting off the main valve and allowing all water to run until it stops.

A slow drip should be enough if you’re dealing with just a few vacancies. You should also leave the cupboards and cabinets open if they house any pipes (such as under-sink cabinets in the bathroom and kitchen) to allow warmer air to reach the pipes. Keep in mind that pipes won’t usually freeze unless the outdoor temperature dips below 20 degrees, but it’s still best practice to take preventative measures when freezing temps are expected. Check your vacant units regularly, particularly after a cold spell. An undiscovered pipe burst can cause catastrophic damage.

Encourage Leaving the Heat On

Encourage tenants to leave the heat on, even if they’re leaving town for a few days. Internal units may be insulated well enough by neighboring apartments, but empty external units are at higher risk. If a unit is vacant for more than a few days, the thermostat should be set at a minimum of 55 degrees.

For vacancies, basements, and communal spaces, don’t spare the expense of keeping the heat on. Apartments don’t need to be heated to comfortable living temperatures, but protecting your pipes is well worth the cost of the electricity or gas. So be prepared by keeping your building’s heat on, even if it seems unnecessary.

Protecting the pipes in your building is essential all year long. We often think of preventing frozen pipes during winter months and in colder climates, but keep in mind: frozen pipes often occur during unusual and unexpected cold spells. Buildings in colder regions are built with the weather in mind, and pipes are usually located on internal walls. In warmer climates, these building precautions aren’t always taken. However, there are steps you can take all year long to ensure your pipes are safe, no matter where you are and what comes your way.

 

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