How do you protect yourself from frozen pipes?

48 Replies

I hear stories all the time about tenants going on vacation, turning the heat down, and coming back to burst pipes, which seems to typically end up being the landlord's problem. Is this actually as common as it seems? Does anyone explicitly put this in their leases?

Hi @Steve Emling

I can't say I've ever had that in one of my leases...I'd be interested to hear if somebody does. We do have terms that deal with looking after the unit etc, which may apply.

Good question!

Open the faucets to allow a tiny drop...this will help prevent frozen pipes in many instances.

Originally posted by @Steve Emling :

I hear stories all the time about tenants going on vacation, turning the heat down, and coming back to burst pipes, which seems to typically end up being the landlord's problem. Is this actually as common as it seems? Does anyone explicitly put this in their leases?

 It's much more common when the house goes vacant than the tenant going on a vacation. I don't think i've ever dealt with pipes freezing due to a tenant going out of town on a vacation & I've had 1,000's of tenants over the years. What you do need to watch out for is when the tenant just moves out in the middle of the night without telling anyone & the heat gets turned off b/c they didn't pay the bill. To mitigate this risk you'll want to setup your utilities on a landlord account with the utility company. This means that it won't get turned off when the tenant doesn't pay the bill it just gets billed to you so there is never an interruption in service.

@Steve Emling In our rental agreements for single family dwellings, it is required that the tenants keep the hose off the spigot from Nov 1 - March 31. Any pipe bursts from an attached hose is their responsibility. You can definitely put something in your lease that the negligence of the resident is not the responsibility of the owner.

Invest in Florida and you’ll never have that issue, now hurricanes on the other hand...

I have had them vacant in the winter . I take a 185 cfm air compressor and blow the water lines , drain hot water tank , and rv antifreeze in traps . Takes a whole 20 minutes .

We have bought a few where the tenants let the pipes freeze. It was a huge mess but we got the properties dirt cheap.Not much you can do if they bail &/or are negligent.

Now last spring I ran new Pex through inside walls to avoid the pipes (to my maintenance guys attic apartment) from the annual freezing. My maintenance guy was to finish the hookups but he forgot. His pipes froze last night & he can't take his weekly shower. He had also disconnected the old heat tape we put on the old pipes. 

In another duplex our tenants were smart enough to run the water to prevent freezing as it's bone chilling cold here.

I'm a real estate investor and a tenant.  The past six weeks the heat in my apartment has been erratic, sometimes with the furnace just not working.   The landlord downstairs found a way to get it working, and then it's out again.   Last time, I came back from a vacation to find the heat not working, the indoor temperature had gone down to 42 degrees, and the landlord and his wife were on a Caribbean vacation.   Four days later, the heat was back on.   Then it went out again two more times, and it happened when the outside temperature was below zero.

Yesterday and today there were four broken pipes.  I have some damage to my belongings, mostly books, but they have more damage downstairs.

I don't want to hijack this thread, but does anyone have any thoughts on me deducting Airbnb costs (where I go when there's no heat and/or burst pipes) and high utilities -- landlord has five space heaters going in my apartment to prevent more broken pipes going forward.   

@Steve Emling

I live in New England and in my lease I have something to the effect that tenant must maintain heat in the premises of 62F to prevent burst pipes. If it’s in the lease and they have read, understood and signed it. Then they have to uphold to it.

I also send text reminders when I know we’re going to have a cold front so they can keep kitchen and bath faucets open to a running drip (cold water only) and open under sink cabinet doors to allow heat in, as these will also help to prevent pipes from freezing.

They actually make “heat tape” for plumbing lines that I’ve heard works quite well. Also, there’s an old remedy stating that if you hang an incandescent light in the space where the pipes are secured, it won’t let the temperature dip below freezing. Not sure about that last one but hope that helps.

@Steve Emling

Heat must be kept at 60 minimum. Tenants are responsible for damages due to burst pipes.

Don’t have any plumbing run along or in exterior walls. Pex does not burst when frozen. The plastic allows for some expansion.

@Steve Emling I have it in every lease that tenants are required to keep temperatures at minimum of 58 degrees if they go away. They are responsible for any damage if they turn heat off and pipes freeze. Whenever it’s going to be very cold we also send a mass email to tenants reminding them to keep cold side dripping if faucet is against an outside wall and leave cabinet doors open. After we started sending the warning email we almost eliminated all freezing issues.

I live in SC and my lease has a provision for minimum house temperature to prevent freezing pipes. I try and put insulation on pipes when I am rehabbing a new place. I have also instructed tenants to leave a faucet dripping during extreme cold.

@Steve Emling   Just this week two landlords called me asking advice on frozen water pipes.  My attorney's relative went to FL for the winter and left the hot water heat on.  On they had somebody check on the house periodly.  There was a an interruption in the electric service and when the electric came back on the furnace could not restart itself for some reason.  By the time somebody detected the problem the water pipes had burst, ceilings had dropped and lots of damage to the house and furniture, to the tune of $46,000.

We had an incident where the gas company turned the gas off, by mistake, wrong address, in a vacant house and we had over $50,000 in damage.  During the repairs, the plumber and Heating companies would tear up walls and ceiling fixing leaks only to think they were done and new leaks would appear.  We lost 6 cast iron radiators.  In one room a chunk of cast iron was propelled across the room and imbedded in the opposite wall by the freezing water.  It was a flying piece of shrapnel.

Besides the freezing temps, wind also plays a factor, if you have pipes in a crawlspace, basement, garage or unheated space. Fixing the draft will help significantly.  Also for pipes through unheated space, we try to re-route to heated space, or wrap with electric heat tape.  The tape has a thermostat built in so we leave it plugged in year round and it is only activated when the temps fall.  We do check them every year right before the heating season.  

A hair dryer works to thaw frozen pipes, NEVER use a blow torch or any flame source.  A friend used a torch and unseen by him a spark fell down inside a wall cavity and smoldered over night before ingiting into flame and caught the house on fire.  That was in Bridgeville, near you.

We're doing a big rehab now and we are not putting any water piped on exterior walls if we can help it, just for the freezing issue.  I prefer gas hot air heat to hot water heat or steam heat where there is water in the heat system.  We've bought many foreclosures and on houses with hot water or steam heat, there is commonly freeze damage to the heat system.  so much so that we put an allowance in our budget numbers for heating system repair or replacement if there is hot water or steam heat.

We're doing 4 rehabs at one time here in PA.  If we have a vacant house whether rental or rehab in the winter, we usually winterize the houses by draining all the water and heating system, blowing out the line with compressed air and using RV antifreeze in the traps and toilets.  Don't use Auto antifreeze, its toxic to people and pets.  We have a plumber do the winterization, they charge $150 to $200.  At one of the rehabs we have the water and heat off and winterized.  At another we have water off and winterized by heat is on.  At 2 of the rehabs, which are closer to completion we water and heat on.

hth

David Krulac

The only thing people havent mentioned is having backup electric heaters if the oil or gas go out. They are hard to get in a crisis as I am sure Newport,RI is out today with a gas line leak. I didnt realize until recently they restore service house by house for gas in certain situations.

@Kate B. Require your residents to have renter's insurance and it should pay for their stays away.

@Russell Brazil do you remind your tenants to do this? I've asked them to do it with faucets before which has worked. I've also had a toilet line freeze before. I put a small string underneath the flapper to let it run a tiny bit... that kept it from freezing but it ran the water bill up quite a bit.

@James Wise yeah I like having some idea what is going on with the utilities even if it means extra fuss of having to bill the tenant myself instead of them paying direct. Never thought about someone just moving out unannounced, good info

@Julie Marquez have you ever had to enforce it? Im just thinking... if rent is like $500-$1000 and there's like $3k+ in damages, can you really get that out of a tenant?

@Matthew Paul yeah I need to learn to do that or find someone who can. I'm honestly more worried about not knowing that the temp is that low inside the house though. I've had pipes freeze in my own home even when the main living spaces felt warm enough

@Pat L. Pex does seem like great stuff. I would almost rather buy a total gut job instead of something that just needs cosmetic fixes so I could redo the plumbing and everything and know that it's done well

@Kate B. Good luck! Sounds like it's time for a talk with your landlord

@Bryan A. Brown yeah I like the idea of just sending out mass text/email to remind people about it

@Matthew Rembish I've always heard bad things about that heat tape, good to know I may have gotten the wrong impression. I've always just put a space heater in the area, which works well enough most of the time but is a money drain

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