Winter weather tips: Frozen pipes

In temperate to frosty regions of the United States, winter can spell trouble for homeowners whose properties are inundated by the elements: hail, snow, blustering winds and freezing rain. The drop in temperature alone can cause houses to show their vulnerabilities, and utility rates can skyrocket with the cost of heating and electricity.

Insurance provider The Hartford has identified frozen pipes as a leading cause of consternation and homeowners' insurance claims during the harshest months of the year. Poorly heated crawl spaces and basements can invite cold weather to freeze the water system, creating breaks and leaks that are particularly costly and difficult to clean up when it's cold outside.

"One of the most common and costliest cold weather claims is frozen pipes," says the company. "While most common in the Northeast and Midwest, frozen pipes happen in all areas of the country and average about $18,000 per claim."

The American Red Cross has a series of tips for homeowners looking to avert damage caused by frozen pipes. First, property owners should acquaint themselves with the water lines in and around a house. Following the source and destination of the utility can help homeowners identify vulnerabilities in their system. Pipes that are located in unheated areas need to be insulated, and there are products on the market like pipe sleeves and heat tapes that can protect those channels from the elements.

Being cognizant of details like keeping your garage door closed, if there are water pipes that pass through there, can prevent freezing. And who hasn't heard a cautionary tale about folks who come home from a holiday vacation to find a basement full of freezing water? When traveling in winter months, the Red Cross recommends leaving your home thermostat at no cooler a temperature than 55 degrees.