Bathroom Faucets...Leave running below 32 Fahrenheit?

lostinitDecember 3, 2009

We have been living in our home for about 10 months and winter is upon us. We live in the Pac NW and it has been getting colder, below freezing at night. I have left the bathroom faucet on as a precaution to prevent freeze, I let it run with a narrow stream as to not waste water but also to prevent freezing. We have a home with AFAIK an unheated crawlspace. What is bugging me is that before we bought the house there was no one here for over a year and this home was remodeled. If the seller did not run the faucets during winter and we had a bad one last year, lots of snow; could the pipes have burst? I have peeked in the crawlspace when we had it inspected but I never bothered to go in there, I hate dark places with spiders; and I saw what appeared to be insulation on the ducts and the flooring but I couldn't see if the pipes were wrapped or not. We have those freeze proof spigots on the outside which are disconnected from any hoses and turned off. Should I run the faucets when it is around 32 or wait until the temp drops further? I did this when I lived in TN a few years ago because we had really bad winters but I have not done it here and I am wondering if there is a potential for a leak. I've heard people say they don't bother with it but I also hear people say it's a good idea but do it when it is a little cooler than 32F. What's the recommendation here? Thanks.

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You really shouldn't need to do that, but you won't know for sure, and you won't rest easy, until you find a way to monitor the temperature in the crawl space.

If you're really not willing to brave the crawl space (understandable!) try getting a $15.00 indoor-outdoor thermometer and putting the remote part on a long stick that you can shove under there without going in yourself.

You surely won't have any problem until the temperature in the crawl space drops to below freezing, which I'm willing to bet it doesn't. If it does you can turn on the water then.

Keep in mind that in Tennessee (and in Arkansas, where I grew up) they don't build houses with the expectation of much cold weather, whereas up here they are more used to it.

If you do discover you have a problem somebody'll have to get down with the spiders and solve it, but it's doable.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   December 3, 2009 at 5:41AM
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Thanks Mark. I'd feel better running the faucet but the wife is not into it, thinks the water bill will go sky high. I know the waterbill may go up but I'd rather have a little higher bill than have to pay a ton of money to repair the damage. She won't listen to reason. As far as the crawl space goes, I haven't monitored the temperature but that may be a good idea, I have a thermometer on the outside of the house and it currently reads 25 F. There is about a 20 degree difference between outside and inside temps, before the furnace kicks on. I hope the pipes are inside the walls of the house and not under the crawlspace although it's likely that some are. With the temperature difference I have to assume the crawlspace may be about 5 degrees warmer than outside although that is a liberal estimate, even so I was also told that if you run your faucet it should be around 20 F because the pressure in the pipes staves off freezing at or around 32F before succumbing as pressure drops. Also, last year we had really cold temps and ice and I didn't notice a problem with water flow so I have to assume the pipes are Ok.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2009 at 10:56AM
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If the pipes had burst while the home was unocupied, you'd have known it by now. There would have been water everywhere when you first turned them on.

And eventhough the crawl space is unheated, it still may be warm enough if it is insulated and closed off from the outside. The ground temperature will remain above freezing. Also, if the pipes are behind the insulation, you should have know problems.

BTW: your outside faucets should have shutoffs that are inside so that you can turn them off inside then open them up to drain. Unless they are those REALLY fancy ones where the outside shutoff valve is actually a handle connected to an inside valve. In which case you're fine.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2009 at 6:18PM
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You should not have to do are simply wasting water. In addition, running water from all of your taps would do nothing to protect the toilet supply lines...and I bet those haven't frozen, right?

What you do need to do is inspect where the lines run. If this is something you can't do yourself, get someone to do it. I live in the Pacific NW, too, and my old house had no wall insulation where the pipes ran; nothing ever froze What you have to understand is that pipes in uninsulated walls are typically at a temperature at least midway between the inside temperature and the outside temperature. So, if you kept the house at 65 F and the temperature outside was at 0 F you'd still not have to worry about freezing. And whenever you run some water during the day, the ground temp is usually about 50-55 F in our area, so that warms the pipes. You will only have problems if you have pipes under the house that are not protected or running through the attic that are above the insulation.

I doubt that any of your other neighbors feels a need to do this to keep their pipes from freezing. If you do an inspection, you can resolve this for good, rather than continue worrying about something that is unlikely to be a problem. If you want to reassure yourself, get a dial thermometer and leave the water to the taps shut off all night. Then open a tap and run the water in the morning and check the temperature. I bet it will be way above freezing, even in one of our cold snaps.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2009 at 4:04AM
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Thanks all for replying. I believe we have PEX lines down there and they are insulated according to the inspection report from last year. I was concerned because this is the first time we are occupying the home in sub freezing temps (in the teens). The good news is I haven't noticed any significant loss in pressure, although I was alarmed when I ran the faucets for a trickle and then came back later to see them not running. Anyway things are warming up now. The crawlspace is unheated and vented. I only know of one shutoff, the main shutoff in the utility room and that is also a PEX line. But yes I have heard there is a proper way to drain the outside supply lines for the spigots. This fall I had removed the hose from the outside spigot and tightened the knobs.

Probably what I should have done was turn off the main, go outside and run the spigots to clear them, turn off the spigots and then go back in and turn on the main. The spigots are freeze proof legend valves so I am not too worried, even when I saw the two adjacent homes with the same spigots covered.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2009 at 3:35PM
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The crawlspace is vented? Are the vents closed now that it is cold weather?

    Bookmark   December 11, 2009 at 10:42AM
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Yes. No the vents are not closed because I don't want moisture vapor to buildup in the crawl space. I live in the Pacific NW and we typically get a lot of rain so I must leave them open unfortunately.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2009 at 9:27PM
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