Winter brings colder temperatures and with that brings a serious household worry- frozen pipes. Here are some helpful little tips that may help you prevent a bigger problem.

 The most vulnerable pipes are those outdoors for swimming pools, sprinklers, hose bibs and any pipes that run along exterior walls. But inside can be just as vulnerable — pipes in unheated areas such as garages and basements are at risk as well. Twenty degrees Fahrenheit marks the "temperature alert threshold" at which you should monitor your pipes and take measures to protect them.

  • Drain swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines. Avoid using antifreeze if possible, as it is dangerous to both the environment and human health.
  • Drain and store outdoor hoses.
  • Insulate! Add insulation to the cold areas of your home where the pipes may be at risk of exposure to frigid temps. Consider buying insulation products: pipe sleeves, heat tapes, heat cables. Pipe insulation can cost as little as 50 cents per foot. Newspaper works in a pinch: a quarter-inch can protect areas that are cold only for a short time.
  • Keep your garage doors closed if you have pipes there.
  • Open cabinet doors in your kitchen and bathroom to allow warm air to reach the pipes.
  • If temperatures are very cold, let water trickle from a faucet connected to any exposed pipes. Running water — while it may rack up a greater utilities bill — can keep pipes from freezing and costing you a lot more.
  • Set your thermostat to the same temperature for day and night, at no lower than 55 degrees. Spending a little more on heat now will be cheaper than a plumber's bill.

Thawing, if the worst happens

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle of water comes out, then you may have a frozen pipe. Take caution when thawing frozen pipes, because if a pipe has burst, the water will come flowing out and flood your home. If you think a pipe has burst, turn off your water and call a plumber. If the pipe is just frozen, take these steps:

  • Run the faucet to melt the ice in the pipe. Even cold water will help it melt.
  • Apply heat in the form of a heating pad, hairdryer or hot towels to thaw the pipe. Do not use a device with an open flame! A blowtorch, charcoal stove or propane heater can damage the pipes or even start a fire.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure returns. Then check your home for other likely frozen pipes — if one has frozen, others may have.

Call a plumber if you cannot locate the frozen pipe, it's in an inaccessible area or you cannot thaw it. Taking care of frozen pipes immediately will decrease the risk of them bursting, so your actions now could save you a pretty penny later. Winter is hard on the home, but you can tackle it with just a few steps.