Not much can create more damage and mess than burst water pipes in winter. Especially if you happen to be away from home when it happens.
Why Pipe Freezing is a Problem
As you know, water expands as it freezes. However, if it’s trapped in a water pipe, it puts tremendous pressure on its “container” including metal or plastic pipes. Even the strongest pipes can be broken by freezing and expanding water. Obviously, pipes exposed to direct, extreme cold like hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basemenets, garages, crawl spaces or even under kitchen or bath cabinets. Even pipes that run along outside walls can freeze without proper insulation.
Prevention Starts Early
Prevention is best before extreme cold and freezing. Try these tips:
Following the manufacturer’s recommendations, drain your swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines. However, unless specifically directed to do so, never put antifreeze as it environmentally harmful, and dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.
Remove, drain, and store outside hoses. Inside your home, there is always a shut-off valve for your hose bibs. Once the interior supply valves are turned off, go outside and open the outside hose bibs. The remaining water will drain out, but leave the bibs open so any remaining water can expand without causing damage.
Install insulation around both cold and hot water lines that run close to the outside walls including basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Use a “pipe sleeve” or install UL-listed “heat tape” on exposed water pipes.
When The Temperatures Plummet
Keep your garage doors closed.
Open cabinet doors in kitchens and baths to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing, especially at night. (Check that harmful cleaners and household chemicals remain out of the reach of children.)
Turn your cold water faucets just enough to allow water to drip. Moving water, even this trickle, can prevent pipes from freezing.
Keep your thermostat set at the same temperature at night as you do during the day, during extreme weather. Your heating bills may be temporarily higher, but it’s much less expensive than a repair job.
Leave your thermometer no lower than 55° F when you are away from home traveling. Better yet, turn off your water at the main.
To Thaw Frozen Pipes
Obviously, if you turn the water on and nothing comes out, you have frozen pipes. Even a trickling faucet can indicate a frozen pipe. Or a clothes or dishwasher that has stopped filling.
Now the hunt begins. Most likely the culprit will be a pipe that runs along an exterior wall or where your water service enters the house.
Keep the faucet open. This will allow water to move through the pipe as you begin to treat the problem, aiding in the thawing process.
Use an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space, or wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water to apply heat to the frozen areas. Never use a blowtorch, or other open flame devices to thaw a pipe. Keep thawing until your full water pressure is restored.
If you can’t locate the frozen area, you can contact a licensed plumber. However, persistence may be just as effective and cost you a lot less money.
What happens if the dam bursts?
Hopefully you won’t need us, but we’re here for you if you do. If a pipe bursts, turn off the nearest shut off valve. Or at the water main, if necessary. Give us a call and we can help remove the water and restore your home to pre-water damage condition.
Stay warm this winter!