The winter months can definitely wreak havoc on your water pipes. One of the most common calls we get in the wintertime is to replace pipes that burst during the latest cold snap. What actually happens to your pipes when they freeze, and more importantly, what can you do about it?
The Science Behind Frozen Pipes
Anytime the temperatures fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (the freezing point of water), any exposed water pipes are in danger of freezing. Unlike other liquids, water actually expands as it freezes, rather than contracts. (In other words, ice takes up more space than liquid water.) When your pipes freeze, the freezing water inside them puts incredible amounts of pressure on the pipes themselves, often weakening and causing them to crack. The real problem begins when the weather warms up again and the water melts. Any cracks that formed will now leak water, and as the weakened pipes expand with the heat, they can rupture and start spewing out water, causing flooding and water damage.
How to Keep Pipes from Freezing
When it comes to freezing pipes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to prevent a pipe burst is to keep pipes from freezing if at all possible. Some tips to try:
- Put insulation around exposed water pipes, especially those close to outside walls or in crawl spaces underneath the house.
- Apply heat tape to exposed pipes. Heat tape will warm the pipes during cold snaps and keep them from freezing. For best results, have a plumber apply the tape for you.
- Keep faucets dripping when temperatures drop below freezing.Moving water takes longer to freeze than water that stands still.
- Open cabinet doors during cold snaps.This allows the warm air in your home to circulate around the pipes.
If Your Pipes Do Freeze…
If you turn on the water and only a trickle or no water comes out, the pipes may have already frozen. If so, don’t panic; you still may be able to prevent a rupture. Try the following:
- Leave faucets turned on, especially if the water trickles.Allowing water to flow through the pipes will help thaw them gently.
- Apply heat gently to exposed pipes to help them thaw gradually.You can try wrapping heating pads or electric blankets around the pipes, or try wrapping the pipes with towels soaked in hot water. You can also try warming the pipes with a hair dryer or portable space heater as long as you keep them a safe distance from the pipes. Do NOTuse blow torches or other types of open flame; extreme heat sources can cause pipes to heat too quickly and burst.
- Continue applying gentle heat until water flow returns to normal.Once pipes are thawed, take preventative steps as described above to prevent them from refreezing.
- When in doubt, call the plumber.If you can’t find the frozen section of pipe, can’t thaw the pipe or are otherwise uncertain about it, get a professional on the scene to help thaw pipes and prevent a rupture. It’s also a good idea to have a plumber check the pipes after they are thawed—to look for signs of weakness.
Frozen pipes are the bane of wintertime, but by being proactive you can protect your pipes from Mother Nature and hopefully prevent a pipe burst. Your plumber can give you more tips on how to protect your water pipes from the elements.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeff Palady, RMP is the President and co-owner of Budget Rooter Plumbing & Drain Cleaning. This family owned plumbing company has been serving their customers for more than 25 years, and makes customer service and quality of work their priority.
Jeff started working in the field at the age of fifteen under the tutelage of his father, who owned a Philadelphia-based plumbing and drain cleaning company. At the age of eighteen, Jeff and his mother decided to open their own shop in their home state of Delaware. For the first few years, Jeff was Budget Rooter’s only field technician, and was often out on calls until late at night while going to school to earn his Master’s License. As Budget Rooter grew, Jeff trained new technicians, researched and purchased the best equipment, and today he manages the operations of the company.
Known for being dedicated to Budget Rooter, Jeff is one of the first to arrive in the morning and is usually the last to leave. In his spare time, Jeff enjoys fishing, modifying his truck, and spending time with his wife and two sons.