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Frozen pipes: a disaster you can avoid

While an arctic front continues to push temperatures below freezing, now is the time to protect your home from frozen pipes and costly repairs.

An average of a quarter-million families across the country experience severe damage to their homes each winter because water pipes freeze and burst.

An eighth-inch crack in a pipe can spew up to 250 gallons of water in as little as 24 hours. That’s more than enough to damage hardwood floors, carpet and furniture. Repairs and clean-up costs can be enormous.

“The holidays bring enough challenges without adding home repairs to the list,” NW Insurance Council president Karl Newman said in a press release. “Homeowners with burst pipes can return home to find water frozen solid three to six inches deep. It’s tragic and it’s avoidable.”

Standard homeowners insurance policies cover winter-related disasters such as burst pipes and any associated damage. However, it makes sense to prevent damage and avoid a home disaster during the holidays.

NW Insurance Council offers these tips to help you prevent pipes from freezing:

-- Both plastic (PVC) and copper pipes are susceptible to bursting due to freezing temperatures. Insulate pipes in your home’s garage, crawl spaces and attic. These exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing.

-- Wrap at-risk pipes with heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables. Be sure to use products approved by an independent testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories Inc.

-- Keep the house heated to a minimum of 65 degrees. The temperature inside the walls where the pipes are located is substantially colder than the walls themselves. Temperatures lower than 65 degrees may not keep pipes running through exterior walls from freezing.

-- Open hot and cold faucets enough to let them drip slowly. Keeping water moving within the pipes will prevent freezing.

-- Seal air leaks that allow cold air inside, especially near where pipes are located. Use caulk or insulation to keep the cold out and the heat in.

-- Disconnect garden hoses. Use indoor valves to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. Cover outside spigots with special Styrofoam insulators made for this purpose.

If your pipes freeze and burst
-- Call your agent or insurance company as soon as you can. However, your insurance adjuster doesn’t need to see the spill before you take action.

-- If you discover that pipes are frozen, don’t wait for them to burst. Take measures to thaw them immediately, or call a plumber for assistance.

-- If your pipes burst, first turn off the water and then mop up spills. You don’t want the water to do more damage than it already has.

-- Make a list of the damaged articles. Retain damaged items so your adjuster can inspect them.

-- Make temporary repairs and take other steps to protect your property from further damage. Remove any carpet or furniture in the path of flowing water or seepage.

-- You may be eligible for reimbursement for temporary repairs, so save receipts for what you spend. However, avoid expensive permanent repairs until your adjuster has an opportunity to evaluate the damage.

-- Standard homeowners policies include coverage for additional living expenses if your home cannot be occupied due to water damage from pipes broken by freezing.

For more information on how protect your home’s water pipes from freezing, call NW Insurance Council and ask for a free brochure titled "No Frozen Pipes," (800) 664-4942, or visit www.nwinsurance.org.

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