Thousands of families each winter see one or more rooms in their homes ruined and their lives disrupted by water pipes freezing and breaking, warns the nation's largest insurer of homes, State Farm Insurance.

When the outside temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 6 degrees Celsius), water pipes in homes with little or no insulation are likely to freeze and break. In fact, a one-eighth inch (3-millimeter) crack in a pipe can spew out more than 250 gallons of water a day, destroying floors, furniture, appliances and personal items.

Homeowners can avoid frozen pipes by following these tips:

• Make sure there is adequate insulation where pipes run along outside walls, floors and ceilings.

• Disconnect outside garden hoses; wrap exposed pipes with insulating sleeves or tape, and seal foundation cracks that let arctic air freeze pipes in crawl spaces.

If a severe freeze is predicted:

• Open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to piping under sinks and vanities near exterior walls, and

• Run a small trickle of water at vulnerable cold and hot faucets.

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Before you go away for the holidays:

• Set the thermostat in your house no lower than 55 F (12 C).

• Ask a friend or neighbor to check your house daily to make sure it's warm enough to prevent freezing or

• Shut off and drain the water system. But be aware that if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it will be deactivated when you shut off the water.