Midwest winters bring numerous days with temperatures that fall below freezing. The water inside a structure’s plumbing pipes is prone to freezing during cold weather which has the potential to cause great damage. Preventing this common winter problem starts with protecting your plumbing from frozen pipes and knowing how to care for frozen pipes when they occur.
The Problem with Frozen Pipes
Generally, frozen water pipes become a risk when outdoor temperatures fall below 20°F, but freezing can occur at any temperate at or below 32°F. When plumbing water supply pipes are exposed to freezing air, water loses heat. As water freezes, it also expands which places pressure against the walls of these smaller pipelines. Mounting pressure forces pipes to break, causing cracks that lead to slow leaks or a burst pipe that can flood a home or building fast.
Frozen pipes often create extensive and costly damage – the average homeowners insurance claim involving a frozen pipe is around $18,000. Cracked or burst pipes must be replaced. Water damage ruins woodwork, drywall, flooring, and other materials, which must be torn out and replaced. Structural damage is also possible and gas or electrical lines can become compromised. Without proper restoration, frozen pipes can lead to mold and mildew growth indoors, causing additional damage as well as potential health risks to occupants.
Pipes at Risk of Freezing
Frozen pipes in residential homes and commercial buildings are a common issue, thanks to our frigid Midwestern winters. A freeze is more likely to affect certain plumbing lines than others – those with greater exposure to cold temperatures, due to location of the plumbing line, cold air infiltration, and surrounding insulation levels, are most vulnerable. These include:
- Plumbing in older homes and buildings which lack proper insulation
- Pipes that run through unheated basements, attics, crawlspaces, garages, warehouses, and storage areas
- Pipes that run along exterior walls
- Outdoor hose bibs
- Outdoor sprinkler and irrigation pipes
- Wet piping sprinkler systems in unheated and/or under- or uninsulated areas
- Pipes that hold sitting water which are infrequently used
How to Prevent Frozen Pipes
The best way you can protect your home or business facility from a pipe burst or leak due to frozen plumbing lines this winter is to protect pipes in vulnerable areas. Perform home or building improvement projects that safeguard pipes from cold temperatures permanently. When temperatures drop below freezing, additional measures should be taken to help keep plumbing pipes warmer.
- Before winter, remove outdoor hoses from spigots and drain hose bibs. Older hose bibs can be replaced with newer frost-free hose bib fixtures that offer enhanced protection cold temps.
- Drain supply pipes in areas of the building that will not be used over the winter.
- Seal air leaks along the foundation and exterior walls.
- Add insulation to unheated areas where pipes run, such as basements, attics, garages, warehouses, etc. to help keep more heat in, warming the pipe.
- Install insulating pipe sleeves or heat tape to exposed water pipes, which help them retain heat.
- Install heat tracing for wet piping sprinkler systems in vulnerable areas to help keep these vital safety systems properly supplied through winter.
- Keep indoor temperatures at or above 55°F at all times.
During periods of below-freezing temperatures:
- Keep large overhead doors closed as much as possible.
- Increase warmth surrounding pipes along exterior walls by opening cabinet doors. Keep room doors open to allow heat circulation to these areas.
- Allow hot and cold taps served by vulnerable pipes to drip, which keeps water circulating and alleviates pressure buildup.
What to Do If Pipes Freeze
If you do experience frozen pipes, mitigate damage by taking these actions:
- Apply heat to the frozen pipe using a heat gun, hair dryer, heating pad, or hot water-soaked towels. Use a space heater to warm the area at a safe distance from the pipe.
- If you find a leak once the pipe has thawed, turn off the water supply using the fixture’s shutoff valve or the main shutoff valve serving the home or building.
- Clean up water as soon as possible.
Professional Help for Frozen Pipe Water Damage
A frozen pipe can have devastating consequences for your home or business. Hays + Sons performs complete water damage restoration services to mitigate the damages that result from a pipe burst or leak. Contact us anytime, day or night, for a quick response to protect your property this winter.