If you ask virtually anyone in the United States to describe Texas weather in one simple sentence, most responses would include some variations of the words “hot” and “dry.” Nevertheless, cold weather is indeed possible in Texas; Mother Nature made that painfully clear in February 2021. Do you really need to be worried about frozen water pipes during Texas winters, or was this just a one-off occurrence?
It’s important to note that despite its reputation for being hot and dry, it can(and does) get rather cold in many parts of the state, especially in January and February. According to US Climate Data, the average low temperature in January is a mere 30 degrees. Fortunately, during regular weather conditions, this below-freezing temperature is only maintained for a few hours- usually in the pre-dawn hours. As such, it is unusual for Texans to experience sustained below-freezing temperatures that can create the risk for frozen water lines. Most Texas households do have some form of heat, whether in the form of heat strips or a furnace, but very few have insulated pipes. As early 2021 showed, this can be a serious issue.
As the temperatures plummet below freezing and stay cold for days at a time, water lines are at risk for freezing. As water freezes, it expands, which causes water lines to simply break. It isn’t noticeable at first, however; it isn’t until things thaw out that homeowners start to experience water flowing in through the walls and the damage it can create. In other parts of the country where freezing winters are commonplace, homeowners tend to wrap their water lines in insulation. This is especially true for pipes in outside walls or under homes, which are the ones that are most susceptible to freezing.
In Texas, the truth is that most homeowners don’t consider the possibility that temperatures could turn off (and stay) that cold, so their water lines aren’t insulated at all. As an arctic front moves in, they are increasingly in danger of experiencing a freezing event. It’s always a good idea to insulate your water lines, even if you live in a climate where below-freezing temperature events are rare. The potential return on this investment is huge since you could save thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars trying to repair damage that could have been prevented.
Of course, insulating your pipes is always a good idea to prevent freezing, breaking, and the inevitable post-thaw flooding that can occur, but this isn’t the only way to keep the water flowing. If you are unable to have your pipes professionally insulated prior to the winter season, there are a couple things you can do to lessen your risk. First, when temperatures are forecast to plummet and stay below the freezing point for more than 12 hours, open the taps in your home so that the water flows in the lightest stream possible - more than a drip, but not quite a full flow. Next, if you live in a mobile home, or if your home’s water lines run through the crawl space, you can utilize any kind of insulation you have available to temporarily protect those pipes.
Frozen water lines are a huge headache, and the amount of damage they can cause is often surprising. Even though sub-freezing winter storms are rare in Texas, it’s a good idea to consider having your water lines professionally insulated before the temperatures start to drop.