With freezing weather on the way to Houston, many homeowners are wondering about the fate of their pipes, fearing a repeat of what happened during Winter Storm Uri early last year. Pipes in thousands of homes across the city froze and then burst during the historic cold snap in February of 2021, causing millions of dollars in damage.
Local plumbing experts say although residents should be aware of the potential risk that comes with freezing temperatures, most homes across Houston should fare much better this time around.
"I think for the most part, we're going to be okay," David Robbins, with Village Plumbers in Houston said. "ERCOT has said it will not turn the electricity off so the interior of the home should stay warm enough to keep the pipes in pretty good condition as far as freeze goes."
During Winter Storm Uri, the state's electrical grid failed, leading to frozen pipes that eventually expanded and then burst. State officials said Wednesday they are confident the grid will hold up this week, although high winds could cause tree branches and other debris to fall on power lines in some areas, causing isolated outages.
Despite what should be a less-severe winter storm, plumbing experts warn residents should still plan ahead and take simple precautions that could save them a lot of money.
"If you have plumbing on an exterior wall, open up the cabinets and it takes the ambient air of the home and helps it to stay under the cabinet to keep the pipes warm," Robbins said. "That's a really good idea. I highly recommend doing it."
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Tuesday warned residents against letting their faucets drip during the winter storm, with concerns it could cause a low-pressure problem across the city. But there are ways to get around that while accomplishing the same goal.
"I would say, perhaps if you're at home, to go into the bathroom and other areas of the home, turn on the facets occasionally just to keep the water moving through the pipes and then you should be okay there," Robbins said. "The mayor doesn't want us to drip the pipes because of the pressure drop. I would suggest going with what the mayor says."
If homeowners are leaving Houston for the holidays, some plumbing experts say they can turn off the water main to their homes and then open faucets inside and empty pipes to prevent freezing.
"In this temperature, I'm going to say it's a little bit overboard, but it's one way to ensure nothing is going to happen," John Eccles with Nick's Plumbing in Houston said. "When you drain your system, you never get all of the water out, so there is a chance something crazy could happen, but water expands when it freezes, so that's what happens when we don't drain it."
Eccles also suggests opening interior attic access points to let warmer air from the home get into the colder attic area that sometimes contains pipes.
Houston plumbers agree that although interior pipes should survive the cold, it's a different story for exterior pipes.
"My biggest concern would be the pipes on the outside, the exterior of the home," David Robbins said. "Exposed piping like hose bibs, water connections, valves, irrigation systems, they need to be protected."
Despite the concerns, both Robbins and Eccles are confident most homes in Houston will be okay during the freezing weather, although they said they are already getting calls from residents who aren't sure how to get their houses ready for the extreme cold.