When water freezes it also expands. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. Expanding water can cause pipes to break, no matter what their strength is.
Pipes that freeze are most frequently those that are exposed to severe cold, such as outdoor hose bibs, water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages or kitchens, and pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation. Below are some helpful tips to prevent frozen pipes.
- Remove, drain and store hoses used outdoors. Always unhook your water hose from your outdoor spigot in the winter. The water inside the hose can freeze and this freezing continues until it reaches your piping. If you have PVC plastic piping leading to the spigot, it will likely burst.
- Insulate water supply lines located in unheated areas; basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages, kitchens or any pipes running against exterior walls.
- Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. (Be sure to remove any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of reach of children).
- Let water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe, even a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing because the temperature of the water running through it is above freezing.
- If you will be going away during cold weather, have the heat in your home set to a temperature no lower than 55°F.
- Consider relocating exposed pipes to provide increased protection from freezing. This can be done by contacting a professional plumber.
- Add insulation to attics, basements, and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas.
If your water pipes freeze …
- Don’t take any chances. If you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out, leave the faucets turned on and call a plumber. If you detect that your water pipes have frozen and burst, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve in the house; leave the water faucets turned on. (Make sure everyone in your family knows where the water shut-off valve is and how to open and close it.)
- Never try to thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame. Water damage is preferable to burning down your house. Also a blowtorch can actually make the water in your frozen piping boil and cause the pipe to explode.
- You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe with warm air from a blow dryer. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe. Remember leaks usually happen after pipes thaw out. If this occurs you should have the number of your plumber handy.
- Do not use electrical appliances in areas of standing water because you could be electrocuted.