Winter’s cold temperatures can lead to frozen pipes, a seasonal nightmare. When water freezes, it expands inside the pipe and pushes against the sides. The pressure of the frozen water on plumbing pipes can cause leaks in a joint or cracks in the pipe, which can cause them to break and flood your home with water. While you cannot stop Mother Nature from working her magic, you can take some steps to reduce the chance of frozen pipes. Burst pipes can send water into your home at a rate of 4-8 gallons per minute and cause thousands of dollars in damage. The average damage claim after a flood from burst frozen pipes exceeds $5,000.
Ice formation can occur any place within a length of pipe. Experts say that what causes potential bursting problems is that after the ice blockage, the pipe continues to freeze and expand and cause the downstream water pressure between the ice blockage and the closed faucet to increase.
When and where are your Pipes at Risk?
How vulnerable your pipes are to freezing depends on where they are located in your home.
In northern climates, pipes are located inside insulated walls to prevent freezing in cold weather, but if there are holes in the building or the temperatures are extremely cold, pipes are still at risk.
In southern climates, pipes are located outside and may freeze once or twice a year in cold temperatures.
Pipes located in attics, crawlspaces, and outside walls are more subject to freezing.
Even small breaks in the wall, such as where TV or telephone lines enter the home, can provide enough of an entryway for cold air to gain access to pipes.
For pipes that have no insulation, frozen pipes are a threat when the outside temperature falls below 32°F.
How can you Prevent Frozen Pipes?
What can you do to prevent freezing? Plumbers offer several suggestions, with the caveat that pipes may still freeze even if you take precautions.
Install insulation and electric heat tape on the pipes prior to winter. Even if the pipes freeze in extreme temperatures, the heat will gradually thaw the pipe.
Seal gaps around the home around dryer vents, windows, cable entry points, etc.
When the temperatures are expected to dip, leave a small trickle of hot and cold water running to relieve pressure. If the dripping stops, still keep the faucets open.
Keep your house warm.
What to do if your Pipes Freeze
If pipes do freeze, it is important to thaw them out and prevent bursting. Make sure that your faucets are open and try these remedies:
Shut off the water supply to the whole house or at least in the section of the home near the frozen pipe.
Wrap the pipe in burlap or towels and pour hot water over the fabric several times until the pipe thaws.
Direct a heat lamp, hairdryer, or space heater toward the frozen area and move. Make sure to plug the appliance into a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlet and aim it toward the pipe from at least a foot away.
When to Call a Licensed Plumber
When your pipes freeze, you can call a plumber to unthaw them, but this is a more costly solution. While a plumber will come out and do the job, your dollars are best spent on engaging a professional plumber before cold weather sets in to insulate your pipes, check for places where cold air can come in, and install heat tape. In some cases, he or she may even relocate the pipes to reduce freezing chances.
If your pipes burst, you will need a plumber to repair damaged lines, but the best cure for frozen pipes and burst lines is prevention.
About the Author: Jillynn Stevens, Ph.D., MSW is a writer and the Digital Marketing Content Director at Be Locally SEO where she is passionate about helping small and medium sized businesses expand their online presence and realize unprecedented success.