I know the Holidays have passed, but one song rings true when it comes to these cold temps – Baby, it’s cold outside! And your home’s and apartment’s pipes are singing the same, sad tune. It’s cold and pipes exposed to outdoor below-freezing temperatures face one sad, sad fate. When water pools inside an outdoor pipe or pipes in areas prone to dropping below a freezing 32 degrees can become easily susceptible to a home-made disaster known as “frozen pipes.”
Frozen pipes occur when water pool in pipes located in areas below freezing temperatures. When the pooled water freezes, it begins to expand (have you ever left a coke in the freezer? Let me know how that ended up for you) and causes pressure to build up inside the pipe. At some point, the pipe may / will burst and cause a leak undetectable until the weather warms up. Unfortunately, there’s no substance that can withstand the expanding frozen water, so metal and plastic pipes are all susceptible to this type of damage. According to the Red Cross, “pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets. Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation are also subject to freezing.”
The number one way to stop a frozen pipe disaster is to prevent frozen pipes in the first place. Since frozen pipes are caused by standing or pooling water, sufficiently draining pipes before winter is a key in reducing you risk of frozen pipes. Take hoses used outdoors and drain them, then store them inside. Close off inside valves supplying water to the outdoors (let’s be honest, you’re not going to be washing the cars this winter), but leave outside valves open to allow for drainage. Check you basement and crawl spaces for pipes that aren’t insulated and could fall prey to cold nights – this applies to both cold and hot water pipes – ALL must be insulated. Pipes that run along exterior walls should also be checked for proper insulation. Research materials intended for pipe insulation and invest in those (it will save you a bundle later on). “Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes even ¼ of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.”
Some of you may be reading this fully realizing that it is absolutely freezing outside and you’ve done zero preventative maintenance. No fear – there are still options for you. According to the Red Cross’s list, you should keep you garage doors closed if there are water pipes in this area. This will keep the garage at a manageable temperature. Open cabinet doors in the kitchen to allow heat to circulate in these areas. If you have pipes exposed to the outdoor temps and are insulated improperly, let the water from the faucet connected to those pipes drip ever so slightly – running water, even a trickle, will prevent pipes from freezing over. Keep the thermostat set to the same temps during the daytime and nighttime – it’ll run up the heating bill a bit, but a burst pipe will run up the bill tremendously. Going out of town? DO NOT turn off the heat – while it seems wasteful to leave the heat running when no one is home, this will prevent pipes from freezing leaving you with a giant mess when you get back in town.
You may find yourself reading this article because you or your tenants have already frozen pipes and you are looking for a hail mary pass to mitigate the damage. No fear – there’s hope for you too. A tell-tale sign of a frozen pipe is when you go to turn on the faucet and only a small trickle comes out. Your pipes are frozen, but don’t panic. Leave the faucet running. This will cause the ice to melt. “Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.” If the water doesn’t begin to freely flow after a while, and you cannot reach the frozen portions of the pipe, call a licensed plumber. Know that if one pipe has frozen, others probably have frozen over as well.
Why are we telling you about frozen pipes? Because year after year we respond to homes who have been flooded due to these nasty little pipes. If you’re suffering from a frozen pipe disaster, run, don’t walk, to your nearest phone and call our teams – we’re experts in Frozen Pipe Cleanup 101 and we’re here to help. Our 24/7 number is (703) 335-2424