How a Home Inspector Spots Plumbing Pipes at Risk of Freezing

Home inspector

It’s February, it’s freezing outside, and someone somewhere is running late for work. Imagine their unhappy surprise when the shower faucet only releases a trickle of water or worse—nothing at all.

Frozen pipes are the wintertime bane of a homeowner’s existence. For the most part, newer homes with don’t have a widespread problem. But in older homes, every winter night when the temperature drops below freezing might deliver a morning with no water and the possibility of broken pipes later.

Here’s how you can spot the signs of water supply lines at risk of a wintertime freeze.

Too Much Ventilation Under the House

For generations, ventilation under the house has been viewed as healthy and a smart way to help reduce the buildup of condensation from humidity. Unfortunately, too much ventilation leaves plumbing under the house exposed to the worst that winter has to offer. That’s especially true for a very old home with a pier foundation.

Where icy wind can whip under the house, the plumbing will probably freeze come winter. Your customer could close off ventilation openings, fill in gaps between piers for a full barrier around the foundation or opt for a fast-growing trend, which is the fully enclosed, insulated and conditioned crawl space. Heat pumped into the area keeps pipes warmer and it rises, so the home stays warmer, too.

Little or No Pipe Insulation

Exposed pipes without insulation have a high risk of freezing. Inadequate insulation is also a problem, as a quick-and-dirty wrap of fiberglass probably won’t offer much protection against the elements. Pipes need more than that.

Fiberglass is a good start, but foam pipe wrap is easier to use. Installed correctly, it provides more uniform protection, too. In extreme climates, electric heat tape that’s made for plumbing can help keep the pipes above freezing.

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Ordinary Outdoor Spigot

The outdoor spigot is often the first place plumbing freezes in winter. If the main water supply runs up to the spigot and then into the house, a frozen outdoor spigot could stop water in its tracks. A freezeproof/frost proof spigot is better.

The proper name for this device is a frost-free sillcock faucet. The design, says the Family Handyman, “puts the faucet’s flow valve well within the heated walls of your home.” If there’s a snap freeze, the valve is more likely to stay thawed, keeping water flowing through the home.

Evidence of Old Protection or Thawing Methods

Probably the easiest way to spot water supply lines at risk of freezing is evidence of thawing in the past. Is there old insulation that’s seen better days? Are there layers of it? What about broken bits of electric heat tape?

One of the most common freeze-prevention devices is an ordinary light bulb. If the crawl space has an exposed bulb near a supply line, chances are it’s not there for lighting. Accessory lighting, such as a clip-on halogen work lamp under the house, is another possible sign.

Frozen pipes are more than just a nuisance. Because water expands when it freezes, it also puts the pipes at risk of bursting. If you thought frozen water in the lines was bad, imagine thawing them and discovering a leak. Winter is the least favorable time to clean up a flood.

Your work as a certified home inspector helps home buyers make educated decisions and homeowners learn about defects that need repair. If you’re ready to take on a new career, ICA School is ready to help. Enroll now and get started today.

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