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Freezing pipes -In the United States damage caused by frozen pipes that have burst exceeds the damage caused by burglary, fire and wind damage. Keeping pipes that are exposed to below-freezing weather insulated might be the easiest and least expensive step in keeping water damage to a minimum.

Unless there is a heat source, insulating your pipes only slows down the freezing process. One suggestion is to add thermostatically controlled heat tape around pipes. Or even move a pipe that goes through an unheated section and reroute it through an area that does receive some amount of heat. A little work now might save you a lot of time and money later.

Note: If your water supply piping is plastic, ONLY use automatic thermostatically controlled heat tape. Other non-automatic heat tapes can damage plastic pipes, especially if the taped pipes are covered with insulation.

Here are a few simple ideas that will help keep your plumbing from cracking.

•  Protect pipes in or near exterior walls, don't set the thermostat below 60 degrees F.

•  Leave the cabinet doors under the sink open at night or on very cold, windy days.

•  Keep the water running at a slow and steady trickle. This will help relieve pressure.

•  Keep a light on in rather confined spaces, but exercise caution when using lights or any sources of heat because there is always the chance of fire. You should always consult a professional first.

Contrary to belief, it is not the expanding ice itself that causes pipes to burst. But the pressure that builds up between the blockage and the tap as the ice forms it's a good chance the pipe will rupture where it is not frozen. If you find that a pipe has iced up, turn on the water to the sink just enough to provide relief from the excessive amount of pressure. To thaw a pipe that has frozen, try using a hair dryer or heat gun (set on low). Never heat up the pipe to fast, as this could cause the pipe to crack. If there is a chance the pipe may have already burst, shut-off the water. If it's necessary, shut off the main water supply. This will help minimize any flooding when it thaws.

Here a few ways to identify problem areas where pipes could potentially crack.

- Pipes that pass through areas such as garages crawl spaces and attics.
Areas that are normally kept above freezing should also be checked. Pipes that pass close to or on foundations or near an outside wall.
-Places that allow cold air to penetrate such as a dryer vent should also be inspected.

The most commonly used pipe insulation is tubular foam. Some come with slits down the side for installation over existing pipes and some without for installation over new pipe. There are also 2-inch wide Fiberglas strips that are meant to wrap around hard-to-cover valves when preformed covers are not available from the manufacture.