Preventing Frozen Pipes

In cold weather, the potential for burst pipes is high. Frozen and burst pipes often result in extensive and costly property damage, which can in turn drive up the cost of our insurance program. Please have maintenance personnel check your facilities and take the following precautions to prevent property damage:

  • It is generally recommended that buildling thermostats be set to at least 68° F during extreme cold. Normally 55° F is sufficient, but during an extreme cold spell it is prudent to set the thermostat higher.
  • Check the heating systems to ensure proper functioning.
  • Check all faucets. Make sure water flows freely and no leaks are present. If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, this may be a sign of a frozen pipe.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing.
  • Be sure to know the location of all shut off valves; in the event a pipe bursts, you will need to stop the flow of water as soon as possible.
  • If you haven’t already done so, disconnect, remove and store outdoor hoses. Close all inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain.
  • If possible, schedule a maintenance check in the evening to be sure heating is functioning properly.
  • For less frequented areas and unoccupied buildings, have custodial staff check heating and faucets two to three times a day to ensure there is no indication of frozen pipes. This is important as discovering a frozen line (no water flow) prior to the pipe thawing permits the opportunity to shut off the water before it leaks and may also provide an opportunity to thaw the pipe before the ice expands enough to split the pipe or fitting. 

Treating Frozen Pipes

  • If you open a faucet and little to no water comes out, leave the faucet open, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve, and call a plumber.
  • Never attempt to thaw a frozen pipe with an open flame. You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe with the warm air from a hair dryer. Start by warming the pipe closet to the faucet, working toward the coldest section of the pipe.
  • If a water pipe bursts, completely open all faucets and turn off the water at the main shut-off valve. Call a plumber immediately.

Fire and Carbon Monoxide Safety

When utilizing alternate heating sources, such as a fireplace, wood stove or space heater, take the necessary safety precautions. Keep a fire extinguisher handy and ensure that everyone knows how to use it properly. Never use an oven to heat a room – this can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors; change batteries if necessary.

Outdoor Activities – Preventing Frostbite & Hypothermia

Dangerously cold wind chills will result in frostbite or hypothermia if precautions are not taken. Frostbite can develop in just 30 minutes with a wind chill index of -20. During this cold spell, minimize outside activities. If you must be outside, please take the following precautions:

  • Wear several layers of clothing rather than one thick layer.
  • Wear gloves and a warm hat.
  • Wear synthetic or cotton clothing next to the skin to control sweat.
  • Wear warm footwear with one or two pairs of warm socks; footwear should not fit too tightly because it will restrict blood flow and cause more harm than good.
  • Wear a scarf or face mask in cold windy weather.
  • Take frequent short breaks in a warm shelter to allow the body to warm up.
  • Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.
  • Drink warm, sweet beverages and avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol.

Other Resources

New Jersey Office of Emergency Management

Zurich Risk Topic - Cold Weather Freeze Ups

OSHA Cold Weather Tips 

Preventing Trips Slips and Falls in Winter

Willis Technical Advisory - Winter Weather