Protecting pipes from freezing

If you need to shut off the water in your home or business because pipes are frozen, burst, etc., please use the water shut-off valve if you have one in your plumbing system. If you do not have a shut-off valve or if your valve does not work, OWASA will shut off water at our meter on request once a year with no charge. You can contact us at any time at 919-969-4421.

Pipes in unheated areas of a building, such as the crawlspace or basement, have the greatest chance of freezing. Therefore, it is important to seal openings and air leaks in the crawlspace or basement, including access doors, air vents in the foundation and cracks.

You can use insulation, cardboard, plastic or newspaper to close and seal cracks and other openings, and keep the cold air as much as possible.

Your foundation air vents may have hinged covers so the vents can easily be closed. However, if the basement or crawlspace has a furnace that uses natural gas or heating oil, and/or a water heater that uses natural gas, it is necessary for safety to maintain an adequate supply of air. You may wish to check with the company that installed or maintains the furnace or heater about about this. 

If you have difficulty keeping cold air out of an unheated crawlspace or basement with water pipes or for other reasons believe pipes may freeze, you can let one or more cold water faucets drip slowly to keep water moving and reduce the potential for freezing. A slow drip from a faucet is better than major water loss and property damage from frozen (burst) pipes.

If you have water pipes or hoses in an unheated area (such as a crawlspace, attic, basement or utility room/shed), insulating the pipes is prudent, especially if they are cold water pipes. For example, pipes that hold water for a sprinkler fire protection system may need to be insulated if they are in an unheated attic.

Pipes in an unheated area can be protected by wrapping them with electrical heating tape (available at supply stores). However, heating tape should be installed first if pipes are insulated.

If you have pipes inside or close to an exterior wall (such as pipes that supply water to a sink), you can help keep the pipes warm by opening the cabinet if there is one under the sink.

Remove and drain hoses from outdoor spigots. If there is a cut off valve specifically for an outdoor spigot, turn the valve to the off position, open the spigot and drain any water remaining in the spigot and pipe “downstream” of the shut-off valve.

If you have water pipes in an unheated area such as a shed or garage and there is a shut-off valve for those pipes, turn off the valve and drain the water from the pipes by opening the faucet/spigot.

Identify and mark the location of the shut-off valve in your plumbing system so you can turn off the water to enable a repair if water freezes in a pipe and the pipe then bursts. 

Check that the cover on the OWASA water meter serving your home or business is closed to help protect water in the meter from freezing. If the cover is missing, please contact us at 919-968-4421 or info@owasa.org. (E-mails are received during our normal business hours of 8 AM to 5 PM on weekdays other than holidays; please call us if there is an immediate need to replace a missing cover.) 

IF A HOME OR BUSINESS IS WITHOUT HEAT WHILE VACANT, DUE TO A POWER OUTAGE, etc., you can do the following to drain water out of the pipes and fixtures to protect them from freezing:

1. If your plumbing system has a shut-off valve, use it to turn the water OFF. The shut-off valve may be in the basement, crawlspace or utility room. A building on a concrete stab with no crawlspace or basement may have a shut-off valve in a closet on the ground floor near the front of the building.

If your plumbing system does not have a shut-off valve, you can have OWASA shut off the water at our meter for a fee, or a plumber can do so. Turning off the water at the meter without the proper tool can damage the meter assembly, so shutting off water at the OWASA meter should be done by someone who can do so properly.

2. Post a large reminder or notice that the water is OFF in a very visible place, such as the foyer, living room, main hallway, kitchen, etc. so that people who enter the house/building later will know the water is off.

3. Open all faucets and spigots, including those in showers and bathtubs, to drain water out of the pipes to the extent practical.

The water will slowly drain out from the lowest faucet(s), which may be an outside spigot, in the basement near a laundry washer-dryer area, or in a bathtub in a house which was built on a concrete slab without a basement.

Please note: The water heater may also be drained of water if its power/fuel source is off, but it is very important to know how to do so safely and to prevent damage to heating elements. If you are not familiar with this procedure, we suggest not draining the heater or getting professional assistance.

4. Leave faucets and spigots open to drain while the water is OFF. Some water will stay in these pipes and may freeze, but draining the plumbing system will reduce the potential for freezing and damage.

5. Remove hoses from spigots which supply water to your clothes washer and open these spigots. (NOTE: Before you remove the hoses, put a bucket or similar container in place to catch the water that will drain from the spigots.)

6. Flush toilets at least twice to drain as much water out of the toilet tanks and bowls as possible.

7. When the heat is restored, and you are ready to turn to the water back on:

  • close the faucets and spigots at tubs, sinks, showers, etc.
  • reconnect the clothes washer hoses to the correct spigots, and
  • then turn the water back ON by opening the shut-off valve for the plumbing system or arrange to have water turned on at the OWASA meter. Water should then begin flowing to refill the toilets.
  • If any water pipes have been damaged, they will leak and could cause property damage, so listen carefully for flowing water after the toilet tanks fill. (Filling a toilet tank may take about a minute.) You can also check the flow indicator in the OWASA water meter. For more information including a photo showing a typical flow indicator in an OWASA meter, please click here.
  • If you hear water flowing after the toilets are full, shut the water OFF and look thoroughly to find any water leaks/damage. If you find leak(s), have them repaired by a licensed plumber or other qualified person. After a leak is fixed, please contact OWASA Customer Service at 919-537-4343 or by e-mail to customer service to ask about getting an account credit.

For more information: 919-968-4421 or info@owasa.org.