How to Avoid Burst Pipes in Your Rental Property this Winter

by Alyssa Adams  11/19/2021
How to Avoid Burst Pipes in Your Rental Property this Winter


Burst pipes – two words that no landlord, or tenant, wants to hear. But as Winter approaches fast, now is the time to prepare and prevent frozen pipes. The inherent hazards that cold weather brings can result in devastating damage to both property and a landlord’s wallet. To winterize a rental, landlords and tenants must work together to ensure all systems make it safely through the season. Does your tenant know what to do to avoid burst pipes? If not, continue reading below for our tips on turning off exterior water and preventing costly Winter repairs.

How to Shut Off Exterior Water to Avoid Burst Pipes

Before cold weather hits, it is essential to winterize exterior pipes to prevent freezing. Landlords should reach out to tenants to remind them of this process before the season’s first hard freeze. Fortunately, this process only involves a few simple steps.

  1. Locate Exterior Faucets
  2. Find the Shut Off Valves
  3. Turn Off the Exterior Water Supply
  4. Bleed the Lines

Locate Exterior Faucets

The first step to avoid burst pipes is to locate all exterior hose bibs and faucets. Ideally, these will be pointed out during the initial move-in process, but if not, find these by walking around the perimeter. If any garden hoses were still attached, remove them. Just be sure to drain any lingering water in the hose and store them away for the season.

Find the Shut Off Valves

Shut-off valves for the exterior faucets you locate can be found inside the home. So, head in and check for these valves near the main water shut off or along the basement ceiling and walls. Depending on the property and age, the location of valves may vary but are generally along outer walls. So, take your time and be sure you locate all of the individual vales to correspond with the outside hose bibs or faucets.

Turn Off the Exterior Water SupplyTurn Off the Exterior Water Supply

Now that you found the location of all valves shut off the water supply. However, make sure you know how to shut off the particular type of valve the home has. Most often, new homes have a lever valve with a bleed cap. Thus, helping to drain any remaining water out of the lines more easily. Below are the two most common shut-off valves found in rental homes.

  • Gate Valve – Gate valves have a round handle that looks like an outside hose bib handle. It operates by lifting or lowering a barrier into the path of water flow. Therefore, closing the valve requires turning the handle clockwise several times. Keep rotating until you feel the gate fully engage. This valve is typical in older homes.
  • Ball Valve – A ball valve has a straight pivoting or “lever” handle. These use a hollow ball that pivots as the handle turns to cut off water flow. So, to close, turn the handle a quarter turn. If done correctly, it should be perpendicular to the pipe.

Pro Tip: Take care of your valves! Old fixtures or valves that are not used often can crack or break under too much force. So, turn them carefully to avoid damage.

Bleed the Lines

Now that everything is shut off, the process of winterizing to avoid burst pipes is almost complete. The last step is to open the outside faucets again to drain any remaining water from the lines. If the inside shut-off valve has a bleeder cap, tenants can also place a bucket under this and also drain any remaining water. Once confident that all water has exited the pipes, close the faucets, and replace the bleeder cap.

What Causes Burst Pipes?

It may come as a surprise, but ice is not the direct cause of burst pipes. In fact, the science behind this costly emergency in your rental is more complex. As the water begins to freeze, its molecules expand. These hexagonal molecules take additional space compared to their liquid counterpart. So, as water freezes, it forces the remaining water towards the closed faucet, creating intense pressure. It is this pressure that will eventually cause the pipe to rupture and burst.

What Causes Burst Pipes?

The most vulnerable areas for frozen pipes in any home include –

  • Outdoor Hose Bibs
  • Pipes Along Exterior Walls
  • Water Sprinkler Lines
  • Swimming Pool Supply Lines
  • Supply Lines in Unheated Areas

How Can I Tell if a Pipe is Frozen?

When emergency maintenance issues of any kind arise, quick assessment is critical. So, landlords must ensure they have a protocol for handling after-hours emergencies. It is a good idea to include any steps for reporting such emergencies along with contact details in your Tenant Welcome Packet. In addition, make sure tenants know the most common warning signs of trouble below –

  • Frost on the Pipe – Exposed pipes that gather frost signals a problem brewing. In fact, this could be the first sign of a frozen pipe before it becomes a burst pipe. Therefore, this requires further attention, and tenants must let the landlord know.
  • No Water Flow – Simply put, if there is no water pressure, something is wrong! Whether frozen pipes or another type of blockage, tenants should immediately notify the landlord or property manager.
  • Sudden Odd Smell – Oddly enough, a sudden or strange smell from a drain or fixture may indicate a blockage. That said, this does not automatically mean the backup is ice, but it requires quick attention to further diagnose and remedy the issue.

As with any repair, quick action plays a critical role in minimizing potential damage. So, landlords should immediately act on any reports of suspected frozen pipes.

Tips to Avoid Frozen Pipes in Your Rental Property

Emergency repairs are something no landlord wants to deal with. However, they hit even harder when they were preventable. Although no safeguard is foolproof, there are many steps landlords and tenants can take to avoid frozen or burst pipes. So, in addition to turning off the exterior water supply, check out our tips below.

Tips to Avoid Frozen Pipes in Your Rental Property

  1. The Dripping System– Extreme temperatures threaten pipes throughout a rental home, especially if it is vacant. Therefore, consider allowing a small amount of water to drip from faucets and tubs when temperatures fall below freezing. However, be sure there are no clogged drains.
  2. Increase Airflow – Exposed pipes that are under sinks or in cabinets are quite susceptible to freezing. To combat this, open cabinet doors when the temperature plummets to increase the airflow of warm household air.
  3. Add Insulation – Pipes along outside-facing walls experience the highest probability of damage due to the bitter cold. That said, wrapping these pipes in insulting foam can help protect them from the elements.
  4. Maintain the Temperature – To avoid the chances of burst pipes, instruct the tenant to set and maintain the thermostat to a minimum of 55 degrees.

Does an Insurance Policy Cover Burst Pipes?Does an Insurance Policy Cover Burst Pipes?

Burst pipes result in costly repairs. So, as a landlord, you may wonder – will my insurance cover frozen pipes? Typically, the answer is both yes and no. While individual policies will vary, the general rule is that insurance will cover damages to the surrounding area. This includes walls, flooring, or the owner’s items. However, in most cases, the insurance provider will not cover the cost of the plumbing repair itself. That said, owners must be vigilant to ensure they have the proper coverage and understand any limitations to their policy. So, consider the following –

  • Read the Policy – Every policy may differ regarding coverage limits and exclusions, including water damage. Therefore, landlords must read the terms of their coverage and speak to a licensed insurance professional with any questions.
  • Avoid Negligence – Regardless of the landlord’s insurance provider, negligence that results in damage will likely not be covered. So, ensure tenants take all necessary steps to mitigate damages resulting from burst pipes. This includes moving furniture or items away from the affected area and containing the spread of water if possible.
  • Require Renters Insurance – A landlord’s policy does not cover damage to a tenant’s personal property. This is just one of the reasons to require all incoming tenants to carry renters’ insurance. Nowadays, requiring tenants to purchase a renters policy with liability protection is standard throughout the industry. In addition, this typically costs around $8 to $15 per month, making it relatively affordable.

The Best Way for Landlords to Protect Their Investment

For landlords, maintenance is an inevitable part of being a rental property owner. However, when it comes to cutting costs, prevention is the key. When landlords take the time to explain procedures and expectations to their tenants, it protects the property while also fostering a good landlord-tenant relationship.

No one knows this better than the professionals at Professional Property Management Northern Virginia. Our 24/7 emergency maintenance line and an extensive list of trusted vendors provide owners the peace of mind that we can handle any issue at any time. In addition to maintenance, our dedicated team handles marketing, leasing, accounting, rent collection, and customer service. So, if you own a rental property and would like to learn more about the benefits of hiring a Northern Virginia property manager, give us a call today.

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