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Winter can wreak havoc on a plumbing system. (Add frigid temperatures to increased demand, as the whole family hibernates indoors for four months, waiting for spring, and your pipes and water-based appliances start to feel those “winter blues,” too.) But, can cold weather clog drains? Unfortunately, the answer is “yes.” Among other cold-weather plumbing problems, ice can build up and create blockages or worsen already present clogs.

Homeowners who’ve neglected regular plumbing maintenance throughout the year, shrugging off minor issues as “no big deal,” can see those issues intensify during the cold weather months.

At Whipple Service Champions, Salt Lake City’s 24-hour plumbing experts, we’re here to help keep your system running smoothly throughout the season with our winter plumbing tips. Be on the lookout for these common winter plumbing problems, and take action immediately if you notice anything amiss in these areas.

Frozen Pipes

One of the most common cold-weather plumbing problems is frozen pipes. When the mercury dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, poorly insulated or exposed pipes in basements, garages, and crawl spaces are especially vulnerable to freezing. That means they’re in danger of bursting, and trust us, you want to avoid that mess at all costs.

Left unaddressed, a burst pipe can cause costly water damage to your property — we’re talking thousands of dollars in repairs — and create a breeding ground for mold and mildew. However, frozen or burst pipes don’t always announce themselves with a “bang.” 

How to Prevent Frozen Sewer Pipes

Like your home’s pipes, your sewer lines can also freeze—and, potentially, burst. Freezing weather can direct ice into your drain system, and if unused for extended periods, these pipes can burst. In the end, you may find yourself searching the web for a “house plumber near me” to unclog a frozen sewer pipe. However, here are tips to prevent freezing sewer lines:

  1. Bury Below the Frost Line: Ensure that the sewer line is buried beneath the frost line; contact a professional plumber if you need help knowing the location and depth of your sewer line.
  2. Keep Water Moving: Pipes that have water constantly flowing through them are less likely to freeze. If you are away on vacation for the winter, you may want to keep your faucets trickling water to prevent freezing.
  3. Ensure Gutters are Debris-Free: Clean your gutters to keep them and your drain grates free of twigs, leaves, and other types of debris.

We’ve illustrated a few of the red flags that signal a burst pipe in this infographic.

When cold weather hits, it’s important to check out pipes you think might be at risk of freezing. If you see a layer of frost on the pipes, it’s likely there’s a frozen block of water inside. No need to worry; you can wrap a towel soaked in hot water around the frozen pipe to help it melt. Additionally, you can try to thaw pipes using a hairdryer or heat lamp — no open flames, please! — or contact a professional plumber with the training and equipment to assess and address the issue.

Other potential indicators of a frozen pipe are faucets acting finicky, producing a weak stream of water or no water at all, and strange odors coming from drains. Nip back at Jack Frost by giving our team a call before a burst pipe gives you the cold shoulder.

Clogged Drains

You know better than to wash oil and grease down your drains, but we understand that sometimes, stuff happens. And as you now know, cold weather can clog drains. Pipes collect debris, whether it’s hair, soap scum, or sludgy cooking substances that build up over time. When cold weather hits, anything stuck in pipes can stiffen, solidify, or combine with frozen water to leave you with a fully stopped-up sink or shower. 

Frozen lines, such as kitchen sink drain pipes, are an inconvenient cold weather plumbing problem—but fortunately, you can take steps to prevent them.

When you encounter winter clogs, try pouring boiling water down the drain in question in order to thaw the obstruction. Or pick up the phone. Let a pro take a closer look at what’s causing your clogs and provide a permanent solution, not just a quick fix.

How to Avoid Clogged Drains

Follow these tips to prevent drain blockages and additional plumbing issues:

  • Tip #1: Keep grease, fat, oil, bones, coffee grounds, and other clog-forming items out of the garbage disposal. Throw these items in the trash instead.
  • Tip #2: Run ice in your garbage disposal to keep the system clean and functioning properly.
  • Tip #3: Run cold water while using the garbage disposal and after (for 15 to 30 seconds).

Water Heater Woes

While cold weather can clog drains and freeze pipes, there is one more cold weather plumbing problem to watch for: water heater deterioration and malfunctions. Your water heater works extremely hard year-round. During the winter, it goes into overdrive to meet the demand for hot showers, heavy loads of laundry, and dishes. That additional wear and tear can lead to a water heater breakdown, especially if you’ve skipped seasonal maintenance over the past year or longer.

Lukewarm or chilly water, when you want it piping hot, doesn’t just make for a dissatisfying shower experience. It could be a sign of an overworked or failing water heater. If you notice inconsistent water temperatures, strange sounds, or signs of leakage, act fast. A busted water heater is a mess no homeowner wants to deal with — no matter the season.

Reach Out to a Professional

There’s certainly no shortage of cold weather plumbing problems. Cold weather can clog drains, freeze drains or pipes, and cause trouble with your water heater tank. Fortunately, you don’t have to frantically search the internet for an “emergency plumber near me now,” since Whipple Service Champions is here to help around the clock.

For more information or to get help with your pipes, drains, or water heater, call Whipple Service Champions. Our team is available at any time to provide reliable, professional plumbing maintenance or repair services throughout the Salt Lake City area.