You often hear about how you should turn down the thermostat to save energy on heating, and there are a slew of helpful ideas on the subject. I'm sure you've heard some of them right here on this blog: You can turn the temperature down in your house in the winter, especially when you're out and when you're sleeping, and you can save about 1% on your energy bill per degree Fahrenheit you turn your thermostat down!
As exciting as this may be, before you turn the temperature down too low, keep some things in mind.
Please save energy! Saving energy is good. But please, please think of your pipes before you go too crazy with the idea.
Frozen pipes are a big deal. If the water in your pipes starts freezing, you run the risk of that pipe exploding, and that's definitely not what you want to happen in the dead of winter.
What you'll need to do is based on the region you live in, so you may want to look up your state or city's Web site and see if they have recommendations on how to prepare your house for the winter. There are relatively few places in the United States where you'd never have to worry about frozen pipes. According to Weather.com, southern states generally start having issues with frozen pipes when the temperature reaches about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (the distinction is made because houses in the south are less likely to build homes with pipes located inside or in the warm areas of your home.) The U.S. Department of Energy's Federal Energy Management Program has a file that shows the probability of frozen pipes in your region (PDF 115 KB).
So, unless you live in a place where it never gets below freezing, you'll need to know some things about your house or apartment: In addition to where you live, the temperature you set your thermostat to avoid pipes from freezing depends on where your pipes are located, what material they are made of, and how well insulated those pipes are. This is why you don't want the temperature inside your house to drop too low, because bathroom and kitchen pipes are generally not insulated, and they rely on whatever system you're using to heat the rest of your house to keep warm.
If you rent, you might want to ask if the owners require their tenants to keep the thermostat above a certain temperature. Sometimes landlords require all tenants to keep their thermostats above a certain temperature and asks tenants to consider leaving the taps dripping.
These are all good reasons to be careful with the temperature at which you keep your thermostat. But don't forget the rest of your pipes—some of your water pipes may be in colder parts of your house, like crawl spaces or attics, that don't get any of your home's ambient heat and may, in fact, be subjected to air directly from outside. You may want to insulate those pipes to improve your energy efficiency, cut heating costs, and avoid burst pipes. Check out our step-by-step DIY project to learn how.
You should also know that you need to take special precautions to make sure your solar water heaters don't freeze if you live in a cold enough climate.
Your pipes are vulnerable. Frozen pipes are a pain, and you should always consider how your house is built before you make any drastic decisions on how to heat your home in the winter.
Here are more tips from the Red Cross for how to prevent pipes from freezing, and how to thaw them if they do.
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