Plummeting temps can cause water to freeze in your pipes. Frozen pipes can be a disastrous problem. Water expands when it freezes and a pipe has the potentialto burst when frozen. If this happens water will gush out where the breakage is and cause potentially serious water damage to your home. Older homes are more susceptible to issues caused by frozen pipes but newer homes are not immune. These pictures are extreme cases but imagine coming home to this.
How do you know if your pipe is frozen? In most cases the discovery comes in the morning after a bitterly cold night. The water freezes due to the water being stagnant and the extreme cold. If you turn on the faucet and just a trickle comes out you may have a frozen pipe. If this is occurring throughout the house your main water line may be frozen. Feel the pipes in the home to see how cold they are. If a spot feels especially cold it may be frozen at that spot. Freezes most commonly occur on outside walls so look there first.
To unfreeze a water pipe some precautions need to be taken. A gentle approach should be taken so as to not produce steam in the pipe. Turn the water on to the affected tap even if no water comes out. Moving water will aid in thawing out the pipe and once the water starts flowing it will help speed the process. Access the area where the pipe is and use a hair dryer, or heat lamp to warm the pipe. If the freeze has occurred under a cabinet (like in a bathroom or kitchen sink) you should open up the cabinet doors to allow as much warm air as possible to the area.
Be careful if you are going to use a propane torch to thaw your pipes. First you need to make sure that there isn’t any combustible material nearby. You should also never put the torch flame directly on the frozen pipe as this may create steam inside the pipe. Steam trapped in a pipe can potentially cause the pipe to burst from the pressure. Work from an open faucet towards where the freeze has occurred so that if steam occurs it’s not trapped by the frozen ice. This will also allow to see how the water is flowing from the pipe.
There are a few steps that can be taken to prevent this from happening to you:
One of the simplest ways to prevent pipe freeze from occurring is to use a heat tape that is wrapped around the pipes in problem areas. Heat tape comes in different lengths but for most cases you won’t need anything too long. Heat tape plugs in to a household outlet and simply keeps the pipes warm enough for the water to keep flowing. After applying the heat tape you need to wrap the pipe in some kind of pipe insulation.
In some cases, like when the pipe is located in a finished wall, it’s difficult to apply the tape. For these case try and allow as much warm house air to come into contact with the problem spots as possible. If it’s going to be a particularly cold winters night, open up the cupboards and allow the warm air to access the pipes. If the problem is in the basement, maybe you need to turn up the heat downstairs for the night.
If it is an outside faucet that is the issue you may consider replacing it with what is known as a “frost-free” sillcock. This particular faucet shuts off the water inside the house (where things are much warmer) as opposed to outside at the valve body. Another option is to have a shut off with a drain valve inside the home on the hose spigot line. When it starts to get below freezing outside you simply shut the water off at this valve inside and drain the water from the line between the valve and outside. for more info on outside faucets check out the blog on keeping outside faucets from freezing.
If you are going to be away from your home for an extended period of time (like the winter months) and you want to turn the heat way down you need to shut the water off and drain the water lines. open up your faucets including the laundry tub. This allows most all of the water to drain out of the lines. You should also add antifreeze to your drain lines and to your toilet. Make sure that you don’t shut off the heat completely to your home. Frost can occur inside the house which can create major mold issues.
If your pipes have frozen and burst you need to call a professional plumber to come and cut out a section of the piping to be replaced. When repairing the area of pipe that is burst the plumber will have to determine how much of the piping will need to be replaced. When a pipe freezes and bursts it will expand before splitting. All of the expanded piping will have to be removed. Our plumbers are experienced in taking care of these issues. LeVahn Brothers Plumbing has been repairing pipe leaks since 1923. Contact us if you have a problem.
As always the products mentioned in this blog can be found at our retail hardware store.