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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

Everything you need to know about frozen pipes.

12/17/2020 (Permalink)

A frozen, burst pipe. If you live in an area of the country that gets cold winters, one of those things that can go wrong is a frozen pipe that bursts.

As a homeowner, you have a list of maintenance items and things that can go wrong in your home. If you live in an area of the country that gets cold winters, one of those things that can go wrong is a frozen pipe that bursts. Burst pipes can cause massive water damage in your home and become a very expensive mess to clean up. You need more information to keep your pipes from bursting.

What causes a water pipe to burst?

Of course, there is more than one reason that a water pipe in your home can burst. It's beneficial to be aware of the various causes of pipes bursting, including:

  • Corrosion: If your pipes are made from metal, over the years, they begin to rust and weaken. This weakness can cause your pipe to burst.
  • High water pressure: Your pipes can burst if the water pressure is too high. According to Energy.gov, your water pressure shouldn't exceed 60 pounds of pressure per square inch (PSI). 
  • Tree roots: As the pipes wind through your yard to the house, tree roots may grow into them, and this causes the pipes to burst. 
  • Shifting soil: If construction is going on around your home, it's possible for the soil to shift and your water pipes to burst. 
  • Clogs: Excess toilet paper and hair can create clogs in your pipe, and if these clogs get large enough, it can cause the pipe to burst. 
  • Freezing temperatures: When the temperatures dip low enough, the water in your pipes can freeze. As ice builds up in a single location, it applies pressure to the pipe, leaving it vulnerable to bursting. 

After learning the common cause of burst water pipes, you can take steps to avoid problems. You don't want the expense and aggravation of dealing with a burst pipe. 

At what temperatures do pipes freeze? 

Is it enough that the temperature outside is freezing for my pipes to freeze? No, not really.

You need to remember that both the ground and the material of the pipe need to freeze before the water inside it will freeze. You need a few days and possibly weeks of freezing weather before the water inside freezes. In order for the water inside your pipe to freeze overnight the outside temperature needs to reach 20 degrees Fahrenheit. While you can't do anything about freezing temperatures, there are things that you can do to protect your pipes.

How can you protect your pipes from freezing and bursting?

You don't want to deal with the mess and expense that come from a burst pipe, no matter the cause. Fortunately for burst pipes due to freezing, there are some steps you can take to prevent them from freezing and to prevent them from bursting if they've become frozen. Here are some tips to avoid frozen pipes, including:

Leave the water on at a drip: While moving water can freeze, it's much less likely that water in your pipes will freeze if it's moving. It's beneficial when you hear that your area is experiencing or expected to experience a deep freeze that you turn on each of your faucets to a drip. It doesn't need to be a heavy flow. A slow drip is enough, and it shouldn't affect your water bill too drastically. It's certainly cheaper than replacing pipes, and the cost of repairs due to water damage. 

  • Keep your garage doors shut: If you have water pipes that wind their way through the garage, you want to keep the doors shut to keep the temperatures inside the garage warmer, and hopefully, above freezing. 
  • Open cabinet doors; You need to open the cabinet doors below any sinks or other water sources in your home. By opening the cabinet doors, you allow the warmed air in your home to reach part of the pipes inside the home. This keeps the pipes warmers so that they don't freeze. 
  • Maintain a constant temperature: Many people lower the temperature in their homes at night during the winter months to sleep more comfortably and to save money on utility bills. However, to protect your pipes, it's better to pay a little more on your utility bills and protect your pipes by not allowing your home to become too cool at night. 
  • Add insulation: To keep your attic, basement and crawl spaces warmer during hard freezes, add insulation to these areas. These are places where pipes are apt to freeze and burst due to the colder temperatures in these areas.
  • Remove hoses: If you have hoses attached to your home, remove and store them during the winter months. It's also a good idea to shut off the water running to the outdoor faucets while leaving them in an open position. The remaining water will flow out of the pipes.

If you've done all of this, and you still suspect that you have a frozen pipe, you can still keep the pipe from bursting. Follow these tips:

  • Turn the faucet on to a drip: If you suspect that you have a frozen pipe, you need to turn it on to a drip. As you attempt to melt the ice blocking the pipe, running helps the ice to melt faster. However, you don't want to turn the faucet on full, because the pressure of the water behind the pipe might cause it to burst. 
  • Apply heat to the blocked area: If you can locate the area of the pipe that has the frozen blockage, you can apply heat with a hairdryer, heating pad, a space heater or some other non-flammable source. This will melt the ice inside and allow the water to flow freely again. 
  • Call a professional: When you can't find the frozen section or it's behind a wall or under the floor, it's time to call a professional. 

Among other things, cold weather can cause a water pipe in your home to burst. However, the outside temperatures must reach around 20 degrees Fahrenheit and below for this to happen. By following our tips, you can avoid frozen pipes and pipes bursting due to freezing temperatures. 

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