Winter is coming, and with that comes the possibility of pipes freezing. While that sounds like an inconvenience, it can also lead to expensive damage to your home if they burst or rupture, especially if you are not around when it happens. Here’s some useful information about this inconvenient phenomenon, and some tips on what to do should you experience it.
Why Pipes Freeze
You might have to remember back to high school chemistry for this! Water is unique, since unlike other elements it actually expands when it freezes. If you have ever left a bottle of soda or water in your freezer, you have seen this scientific truth in action.
Plumbing pipes, especially those run near outside walls, have the chance to get cold enough to freeze. While many times this results in nothing more than a complete lack of water at the spigot, it has the possibility to split the pipe or damage the fittings.
Dealing with a Frozen Pipe
Your first step should be to determine the extent of the blockage. You might get a slow trickle of water, or nothing at all. Go around your home and turn on faucets to determine which section of the pipe is frozen. Be sure to check both hot and cold water, as one may be frozen and the other completely fine.
Once you’ve narrowed it down, open cabinets and see how much pipe is available to reach. Look for any signs of recent leakage below and inspect the pipe for cracks or bulges.
When you’ve determined the area affected, open the faucet to allow water to flow out as it thaws. This will not only tell you when you are making progress, but the flowing water also helps melt the ice in the pipe.
Find out where the closest shut-off valves are as well as the shut-off valve for the home. Leave them be to begin with, but keep in mind where they are for future reference.
You should also grab some towels and put some beneath the pipe, while keeping others handy for later use. If leaks appear when the pipe thaws, you will need to turn off the valves to prevent damage to the surrounding area.
To begin thawing the pipe, you have a few different options. The goal is to gently apply heat to the affected area using one of the following methods:
- Wrap an electric heating pad around the pipe
- Use a hair dryer
- Set up a portable space heater (eep away from flammable objects!)
- Soak towels in hot water and wrap around the pipe
Under no circumstances should you use the following:
- Propane or kerosene heaters
- Charcoal stove
- Any open flame device
Protecting Against Frozen Pipes
The best solution to frozen pipes is to take steps to prevent them in advance. Unheated areas such as basements, crawl spaces, beneath cabinets, attics and garages may be suitable for an insulation installation to help control the temperature.
Insulating both the hot and cold water pipes in these areas is recommended, and you could consider installing “heat tape” or similar products in these areas as well.
Frozen pipes can be more than a time-wasting hassle, as they can also burst and potentially cause extensive water damage to surrounding walls, cabinets, and other parts of your house’s interiors. Proper inspection, thawing techniques, and steps to protect the pipes before they freeze can save you having to resort to third party assistance later on. Remember, if pipes aren’t visible or accessible or you have any questions about your ability to thaw or determine if damage to the pipe has occurred, contact a properly licensed plumber.