What to Do About the 5 Common Winter Plumbing Problems


Winter in Oklahoma is unpredictable. It could be mild and warm or dangerously cold, which means you have to prepare your home for a potentially harsh climate.

Anybody who’s been in Oklahoma since 2007 remembers the devastating ice storm that left nearly one million residents without power for days and sometimes weeks. While it is obvious that power lines were affected by ice, so were plumbing systems, and some homeowners were more prepared than others.

(In our newest ebook, we outline some of best cold winter plumbing tips. Download yours today.)

So, how do you prepare for the absolute worst case scenario? How do you ensure you won’t have expensive problems to fix after an extended period of freezing temperatures?

We’ve outlined common winter plumbing problems and what you can do about them.

1. Stop the leaks sooner rather than later. 

As the cold weather rolls in, things that are used to the warm weather will react a little differently.  Metal will shrink, and water will expand. These reactions can weaken fittings and damage seals.  In result, you might have a  flooded area of your home. No one wants that because water damage can have lasting effects.

The first sign of a leak you need to get out your plumbing toolkit and check the seal. Replace rubber O-rings, re-apply thread tape, and if you have to, get replacement parts as needed.

Prevention, in this case, means going around and checking the fittings in and around your home periodically.  Make it a part of your spring cleaning or fall preparations.


2. Freezing weather means frozen pipes.

Your pipes started leaking while you were away, and it’s freezing outside. Now, you have a doozy on your hands.

Open the faucets in your home and turn off the water before the freeze or shut it off to your home. Slowly heat the system back up as any sudden changes in temperature can cause further damage.  Be on the lookout for any leaks or burst pipes as this is often a side effect of frozen pipes. 

Make any necessary repairs or replacements before turning the water back on slowly.

To prevent frozen pipes, insulate any pipes that are exposed or near outer walls. Just a light layer of insulation is all it takes to keep things from freezing.  Wherever possible, run your faucets to let the water just barely trickle out.

3. Troubleshoot water heater problems before the guests arrive.

With guests filling your home, showers, bathrooms and kitchens become fairly busy places.  What do you do when the water heater is no longer giving you that sweet heat when it’s brisk in your home?

It's time to start troubleshooting. For tank heaters, you can have gas or electric. If you have a gas heater, make sure the pilot is on. If you have an electric heater, make sure the breaker didn't flip. If it's making hot water, but it's either tepid or just not enough for everyone, go ahead and turn up the temperature for a bit, but be sure to turn it down when everyone goes home.

If none of these fix the issue quickly, you may need to have a professional come out and look at it. Regular maintenance on your water heater can help extend its service life. Flushing out the water take and descaling it can help improve its efficiency. These chores are best done well in advance of company arriving for the holidays.


4. Is your septic system prepared to handle more usage?

A busy home means you probably have a busy septic system. If erosion has uncovered the lines connecting the tank to your home, you may see a freeze that stops your system completely.

Do not try to thaw a frozen septic pipe with direct heat.  If you find that your septic system is having problems in the cold winter months, call a licensed professional to check for any necessary repairs.

Filling in any erosion over septic lines will help prevent a freeze. For an extra layer of protection, adding a layer of straw will insulate the system nicely.

Water conservation will help ensure that a tank isn't overwhelmed with increased traffic. Fats, grease, oils, and solvents do not go down the drain, and any increased usage of the garbage disposal will further hinder the effectiveness of your tank.

5. Prevent clogged drains before they require the professionals.

Many showers and baths can lead to hairy situations in the drains. Doing dishes all season long in the kitchen can also be a drag in the drains. What do you do with stopped up drains in your home this winter season?

A drain snake is a handy tool to have in the bathrooms. Getting out the hair in the drains is a sure-fire way to get the bathtub flowing again after a houseful of guests. 

For the kitchen, start with hot water and grease-fighting detergent. Slowly mix in the detergent into the water and slowly pour the mix down the drain. If it doesn't clear after a few minutes, try using a sink plunger to finish the job.  Try and stay away from harsh drain cleaners if possible to prevent issues in your septic system this season.

You can mitigate or even prevent most of these issues. Using a drain catch in the tub and in the kitchen will prevent most of the clogging contaminants before they get stuck in your system. 

It also helps to scrape off your plates into the trash before washing them. Doing a pre-clean before loading the dishwasher ensures they are ready to use again while keeping the drain in your dishwasher clear as well. 

Throughout the winter season, it’s the little things that can make a good day sour quickly.  Likewise, little things can prevent bigger issues with your plumbing too.

That's why you need to have our cold weather plumbing tips on hand this coming season. Keeping your plumbing system clean and clear means a smooth holiday season.

Of course, if you need a professional, we’re only one phone call away. Get some eggnog and a plate of cookies ready, and our helpers will be there before you know it. So, keep our number handy just in case that plumbing problem turns out to be a real monster.

Call us at 405.237.1414.