Pipe freezing isn't just a nuisance; it can cause leaks inside the walls, which can ultimately lead to bigger problems that make major reconstruction necessary. Prevention equals peace of mind.
Fall maintenance is crucial to your overall home management plan. It might feel like the mild fall days are just beginning, but in actuality, winter is just around the corner and the time to prepare is now.
I consulted with Jack McGraw
, ASHI Certified Inspector. Jack also serves on the board of directors with the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI)
Frozen pipes can have a devastating impact on your home. According to State Farm
, a quarter-million families have their homes ruined each year. Jack tells us, "The broken pipe itself is actually relatively minor, but the damage caused by the leaking water running through your walls and ceiling can mean a major reconstruction project, requiring replacement of drywall, ceilings and maybe even furniture and appliances." Avoid the thousands of dollars worth of potential damage by doing some preventative maintenance.
PROTECT YOUR PIPES
You should protect any pipe that's in an unheated area, like a crawl-space, attic, or outside wall, with insulation. Jack tells us, "Pipes in attics, crawl spaces and outside walls are all vulnerable to freezing, especially if there are cracks or openings that allow cold, outside air to flow across the pipes."
Jack suggests sealing cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations near water pipes with caulking to keep cold wind away from the pipes. Kitchen and bathroom cabinets can prevent the warm inside air from reaching the pipes under sinks and in adjacent outside walls. Jack recommends that we keep cabinet doors open during cold spells to let the warm air circulate around the pipes.
Electric heating tapes and cables
are among the preventative measures that Jack recommends. The tapes or cables run along the pipes and keep the water from freezing inside them. There are two types of tape and cable, one with a built-in thermostat which will turn heat on when needed, and the other without, which will need to be plugged in when the heat is needed. He reminds us that the latter "must be used with extreme caution and in total compliance with the manufacturer's instructions. When used improperly, there is a risk of fire."
The outside water line is the most vulnerable and prone to freezing. Jack tells us that there doesn't have to be snow outside for freezing conditions to be present. Anytime the temperature drops to 32 degrees or below, unprotected pipes could freeze.
There are two ways that this can present a problem. First, if the hose bib
is not frost-free and is not shut off or covered. Secondly, even frost-free hose bibs can become problematic if the line was not drained properly when it was shut off. The sitting water can still freeze and potentially burst.
If you are away from the house for a long period of time, do not turn the heat off. Personally, It's tempting to turn the heat way down in the interest of saving money, but a slightly higher heating bill is preferable to the massive damage caused by a burst pipe.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT FROZEN PIPES
If you turn on the tap and no water comes out, leave the faucet on and call a plumber.
If a water pipe bursts, immediately turn off the water at the main shut-off valve. Take the time before you have an emergency, to familiarize yourself with your shut-off valve. Typically, it is near the water meter or where the main line enters the house.
Jack reminds us to keep safety first, and never try to thaw frozen pipes with an open flame. This will damage the pipe and may even start a fire.
You might be able to thaw frozen pipes with a hand-held hair dryer. Slowly apply heat, starting close to the faucet end of the pipe, with the faucet open and work toward the coldest section. Keeping safety first, Jack cautions against using electrical appliances while standing in water as there is a risk of electrocution.
Looking for that secret product, I asked Jack if there is a kind of pipe that might be less prone to freezing. Unfortunately, no, there isn't. It's just a matter of volume. He says, "The expansion increases the volume of water by about 11%. This creates tremendous pressure on the piping system. Systems include metal, galvanize, copper, and plastic pipes. No matter the strength of a material, expanding water will cause the pipe to burst eventually."
Are frozen pipes an issue in your home? Have you ever had to deal with the disaster of a bust pipe? Share your stories in the comments.