In very cold temperatures, water can burst through frozen pipes. It’s amazing how many water damage repair companies make every winter to help restore properties damaged by frozen pipes. Learn how pipes freeze and how to stop them from freezing.

Why do pipes freeze?

Expanding water can cause pipe damage. Exposed to extreme cold, water lines that freeze can be exposed to outdoor hosebibs, pool supply lines or water sprinkler lines. Pipes in unheated interior spaces such as basements and crawl spaces, attics and garages, or those that run against exterior walls without insulation, are also vulnerable to freezing.

There are many factors that can lead to frozen pipes.

  • Type of construction
  • Quality and quantity of insulation
  • Temperatures are falling
  • Direction and force of wind
  • Weather-related conditions can also be contributing factors

Poorly designed buildings can also contribute to damage. It is also important to consider the age and type of your plumbing system. Leakages are more likely when pipes are weakened by corrosion or rust. Corroded pipes can often burst when there is freeze expansion. Damage can occur when water is turned off or thawed.

Sometimes, foam insulation or blown-in is added to walls cavities between exterior and interior wall surfaces. This may insulate heat from pipes near exterior wall surfaces and make them more vulnerable to freezing.

Pipe freezing is a problem that can occur in warmer states with more temperate climates. These areas may have buildings that are not suitable for cold conditions. Many pipes run through crawl spaces, walls, and attics that are not insulated. These pipes can freeze and burst if the temperature drops below freezing even for a few days.

Water supply can be turned off, causing damage. Because most modern plumbing lines are located within walls, homeowners will usually only notice a leak after water damage has occurred to floors, carpets, walls, ceilings, or walls. Sometimes, the sound of water spraying may be heard by an occupant. However, it could be too late. There is already some damage.

During a power outage, pipes can also freeze. Electric power lines and equipment are often damaged by winter wind, snow, or ice storms, which can cause interruptions in electric power. Heating systems rely on electricity. If the power goes out, the heat also goes. Extreme cold can cause severe freeze damage, even before power is restored.

How water pipes freeze

Water is an unusual substance. Water is a unique material. As with all materials, it cools and its density increases. It settles to the bottom. At 32o F, however, it expands, and its density decreases. This is why ice floats.

This expansion causes water to expand by approximately 11%, which creates enormous pressure on the container (between 50,000 – 114,000 psi). These containers can be made of metal or plastic pipes. Expanding water can cause any material to crack, regardless of its strength.

Frozen water pipes can cause severe or even catastrophic water damage. The cost of repair can often be prohibitive. These tips will help prevent pipes freezing or thaw pipes that have already frozen.

How to stop pipes freezing

  • Follow the instructions of the manufacturer or installer to drain water from your swimming pool and water sprinkler supply line. If possible, avoid putting antifreeze into these lines. This is because antifreeze can be very harmful to the environment and can cause serious harm to wildlife, humans, and landscaping.
  • Drain the entire plumbing system. Low spots may exist that make it difficult to drain the entire plumbing system. For the best results, blow the lines with compressed air. You can freeze the lines if you don’t do it correctly.
  • Drain, disconnect, and store outdoor hoses. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. To allow water to drain, open the outside hosebibs. Keep the outside valve closed so any water that remains in the pipe does not cause it to burst.
  • You should inspect the crawl space, basement, attic, garage and under-kitchen and bathroom cabinets for water supply lines that are not heated.
  • To prevent freezing, insulation should be applied to both cold and hot water pipes. You can use specific products to insulate water pipes, such as a “pipe sleeve”, or install UL-listed heat cable or heat tape on exposed water pipes.
  • Allow your faucet to drip slightly. Pipes can be frozen by moving water, even a small drip.
  • If there are water supply lines to the garage, close garage doors during winter.
  • To allow warm air to circulate around the plumbing, open kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Keep children away from harmful cleaners and household chemicals.

If you are away from home for longer than a few days

If you are planning to be away for a prolonged period of time during the cold weather:

  • Turn on the heat in your home. It should not be lower than 55 degrees F.
  • Turn off water supply, drain pipes and appliances.
  • After you have shut off the main water supply, leave all taps open. The open valves can be used to prevent pipes from burst if the main water supply is cut off. The master valve can be shut off to ensure that even if there’s a break, it will not cause major damage.
  • Even if you have done all of the above, ask a neighbor to come through your house once a day to keep an eye out for any unforeseen problems.
  • In case of an emergency, keep a list of contacts such as a plumber or electrician and a roofer handy.
  • A professional should service your HVAC system.
  • Turn off the water heater before you leave. For more information, refer to the owner’s manual.
  • To keep the heat out, install storm windows or close shutters.
  • To ensure proper water drainage, clean gutters and downspouts.
  • To ensure that your sump pump is working properly, it should be serviced. It is a good idea to have a backup power source.
  • All non-essential electric appliances should be unplugged
  • If you are going to be away from town, inform the police.

How to freeze pipes

  • Locate the Frozen pipe – To determine which pipe is frozen, you need to turn on all faucets within your home. You should check which faucet is not releasing any water or a trickle. It is possible that the pipe leading to this faucet has frozen. To find out if there are any other frozen pipes in your home, check all faucets. One pipe may freeze and cause other pipes to freeze.
  • Turn on your Faucet. Once you have located the frozen pipes, open the faucet that leads to them. Both the hot and cold handles can be opened. Once you have started to thaw the pipe, this will allow water flow.
  • Thaw Near the Faucet When you are trying to thaw a frozen pipe, it is best to begin near the faucet and work your way down until the frozen section. The melting ice can get trapped behind the blockage if you start closer. This causes more pressure and can lead to the pipe cracking.
  • Thawing Pipes Exposed to Heat There are many ways to thaw your pipes.
    • Point the hairdryer at the frozen pipe starting close to the faucet. Use the dryer with safety precautions and avoid getting in touch with water.
    • Hot towels can be wrapped around the pipe by being dipped into hot water. This is a slower, but safer method than the one above.
    • Apply the electric heat tape directly on the pipe. The tape insulates and defrosts the pipe. The heat tape can be left on the pipe so that it is ready for use when needed.
  • Pipes enclosed for Thawing – You can use different methods to thaw pipes you don’t have access to directly.
    • Turn up the heat in your house and wait for the temperature to rise until the pipe is thawed.
    • Place an infrared light bulb in front of the area where the pipe is frozen. The heat of the lamp could penetrate the wall to help defrost the pipe.
    • To make it easier to access the frozen pipe, you can cut the drywall section in front of it as a last resort. Then, you can use one of these methods to thaw exposed pipes.
  • Be aware of the risks
    • You run the risk for injury and fire if you attempt to melt a frozen pipe using heat.
    • Use electrical equipment with care.
    • You should also remember to not let the water freeze near the faucet. This could cause the pipe to burst, which can lead to water flooding into your home.
    • You should also avoid using a blowtorch or kerosene heater, propane heater, charcoal stove or any other open flame device.
  • Turn off water to all faucets and icemakers after pipes have been thawed. Also, check the watermeter for leaks.

What to do when a pipe bursts

Shut off water supply to the main valve if a pipe bursts. For quick access, call a plumber.

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