Prevent your pipes from freezing before it’s too late.
Recently, winter storms have swept across the nation, leaving many Americans up against freezing temperatures without power. Electricity outages during the cold become dangerous very quickly. But keeping yourself and your loved ones warm isn’t the only thing to worry about; if the temperature in your home drops too low, your pipes can freeze and burst.
Bursting pipes can get expensive fast and require professional service immediately. Recent storms have already caused over $18 billion in damages, with burst or broken pipes one of the biggest contributing factors.
It’s a common misconception that homeowners in the Northern US are the only ones at risk for freezing and bursting pipes. In fact, homes in more warmer climates are at greater risk of pipe bursts due to freezing temperatures, as severe winter weather occurs less frequently in the Southern parts of the US.
Wherever your home is located, when the snow flies it pays to be prepared. Making sure your pipes are properly protected before the cold hits saves time, money and most of all a giant headache.
What causes a pipe to burst?
Pipes freeze when the temperature surrounding the pipe drops below freezing for a prolonged amount of time. The water inside the line quickly turns to ice, expanding in volume while freezing. But it’s not actually the physical expansion of the ice that bursts the pipe — it’s the pressure in the line this increase in volume creates. In some instances, the pressure inside a waterline can climb upwards of 25,000 psi.
If this continues for too long, the pipe will burst. When a water pipe bursts, water will immediately start gushing out, and will not stop until the line is shutoff somewhere upstream.
How a Frozen Pipe Bursts:
How long does it take for pipes to freeze?
Short answer, it depends. Many factors contribute to how quickly a pipe will freeze, but water supply lines begin to freeze when the temperature reaches 20 degrees. A home’s central heat is normally more than adequate to prevent all inside pipes from freezing. But when the power goes out, the temperature inside the house can drop fast.
Depending on how cold it is, with poor or no insulation, pipes can freeze in as little as three hours. It’s essential to have a plan in place as soon as the power goes out. An interior pipe exposed to little or no heat is prone to freezing even more quickly.
|High Risk Pipes|
|Exposed to Severe Cold||Near Exterior Walls|
|– outdoor hose hookups
– sprinkler systems
– landscaping water features
– swimming pool supply lines
|– inside cabinets
– crawl spaces
– mud room
But remember, it is not always necessarily a matter of how quickly the pipe freezes — the damage is done when a pipe thaws out and pressure is unable to escape. Luckily, this can be avoided by leaving a line open to alleviate the buildup of pressure.
How do I know if my pipes are frozen?
There are three common signs that your pipes might be frozen:
- Visible Frost – the most unmistakable sign of a frozen pipe, if you notice frost beginning to accumulate on any of your exposed pipes you must act fast.
- Little or No Water Flow – a lack of running water can also be a sign of a pipe freeze in progress. If you open a faucet and little or no water pressure, you should begin inspecting any water lines you can see. Make sure to leave the faucet open to relieve any pressure build up in the line.
- Funky Smells – drain odors are normally trapped in the line when your water system is functioning correctly. If strange smells begin to emerge from your faucets or drains, it could be a symptom of a freeze somewhere in your system.
Will frozen pipes thaw on their own?
Pipes will unfreeze on their own, but only when the exterior temperature climbs back above freezing. This takes far longer than manual intervention, and in the interim the situation can become much worse. It is always safer to act proactively then wait for a frozen pipe to thaw naturally.
How to unfreeze pipes
If you believe your pipes are freezing or already frozen, its imperative to act quickly to prevent damage to your water lines and protect your property from water damage. Attempt to locate the frozen line, and if you cannot, immediately call a plumber and request emergency service to prevent your pipes from busting.
If the frozen pipe is accessible, there are steps you can take to expiate thawing:
- Open the faucet and watch for water: Any water flow, even cold water, well help melt a frozen pipe.
- Heat the pipe directly: Use a hair dryer or heating pad to slowly add heat to a frozen pipe. Start at the faucet and work your way down the line, heating slowly, to avoid a rapid buildup of pressure inside the line.
- Heat the room: introducing a space heater or heat lamp to the room with frozen pipes will slowly raise the ambient temperature around the entire line, ensuing an even and complete thaw.
Continue to apply heat until full water pressure returns, even if the temperature has risen above freezing. If a pipe has frozen once, it is much more likely to freeze again.
ALWAYS open a faucet before introducing heat to a water system. Heating a closed line will only exacerbate the problem and cause a more severe burst. Also be sure to keep an eye out for any electronics or other wiring around a frozen pipe system. If the pipe does burst, the leaking water can create an electrical hazard.
NEVER use anything with an open or direct flame to thaw pipes. Heating a pipe too quickly creates more pressure inside the pipe and can cause even more severe damage.
How to prevent frozen pipes
Pipe bursts from freezing can cause excessive damages, but luckily there are three simple solutions to greatly decrease the odds of your pipes freezing:
- Leave the tap dripping – locate the faucet furthest away from your water main, then open the faucet just until water starts to drip out. As insignificant as this might seem, leaving the line open alleviates a potential pressure buildup before it can begin. If pressure can’t accumulate, a pipe will not burst even if it begins to freeze.
- Insulate Your Pipes – exposed pipes can be insulated very easily – home improvement stores sell foam pipe insulation that can be installed after the pipe has been installed. They are foam, similar to a small pool noodle, that wraps around an existing line. Both cold and hot water lines should be insulated.
- Leave Cabinets and Closets Open – On particularly cold days, it’s a good idea to leave closet and cabinet doors with exposed pipes inside open. This allows warmer air from the rest of the house to better circulate and keep your pipes warm.
It’s also a good idea to find and clearly label your main water shutoff, in case of emergency. In the event of a burst pipe, you need to be able to close the main shutoff valve as quickly as possible.
Related Article: Prevent, Locate and Repair Leaky Pipes
When cold temperatures hit, pipes exposed to freezing temperatures for a prolonged amount of time are prone to freezing. Uninsulated lines and pipes in exterior walls are commonly first exposed. Water lines, when frozen, expand in volume, exponentially increasing the water pressure inside, forcing the pipe to burst.
If the pipe is just beginning to freeze and water can flow through it – even a little bit — there is a good chance the issue will resolve without incident or professional intervention. If a pipe that is frozen solid, or already burst, immediately call your local, licensed plumbing service.
Protect your property: Call AQM
At AQM, all it takes is one call to service all. AQM Inc is a full-service and licensed plumbing, HVAC, electrical, heating and air conditioning contractor based in Exton, Pennsylvania and serving customers in Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties. We guarantee all work performed, and offer our services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Request a free quote or call our office today at (484) 870-9234.