Okay, I had three different Facebook friends mention they had frozen bathroom pipes this weekend. I think it's high time I share my discovery with the world regarding a great way to avoid frozen pipes forever.
When we renovated the house we made a really dumb decision and located the new master bathroom sink not only on an outside wall, but in sort of a "bumpout" that looks like this:
I know, I know...kind of looks like the side of an RV, right? Well, not the brightest idea, in retrospect. The pipes froze twice in the first winter. The solution we came up with was to install a Watts Water Circulating Pump on the hot water tank.
The concept is simple. On the "hot water out" pipe atop your water heater, you install the pump. under the sink with the problem pipes, you install a special mixing valve (that tubular thing in the foreground) that connects the hot and cold water pipes together before the water runs to the faucet. The gadget on the hot water tank has a 24-hour timer on it, on which you can set intervals of 15 minutes each for it to run at various times throughout the day. When it kicks on, it sends hot water up the hot water pipe, to the mixing valve under the sink, and back down the cold water pipe to the water tank, thus filling your entire system with hot (or at least warmer) water. Voila, no more frozen pipes. During the coldest time of year (um..now!) I have it run once every two hours.
Installation is simple, and if you're lucky no soldering is necessary. By "lucky" I mean that if the hot water pipe coming out of the top of your hot water tank is flexible, then all you have to do (after properly turning off and emptying the tank) is unscrew the hose, put this gadget on in between it and the tank, and reconnect. If the pipes are straight copper, you'll need to cut the pipe. I helped a friend install one in his house and, to avoid soldering, we used a pipe fitting called a "sharkbite" fitting. Ask the guy at Home Depot about it.
Another advantage to this thing is you no longer have to wait ten minutes for warm water to reach the shower. The only disadvantage (other than the relatively minor electrical usage) is that you, ironically, must wait a bit for COLD water to come out of the tap. But really, which is worse, rinsing your teeth in warm water or crawling under the sink and setting fire to your house with a blow torch?