As our weather patterns change, we are seeing more seasonal temperature extremes at both ends of the thermometer. The polar vortex phenomenon of early 2019 brought sustained cold temperatures well below zero for a large part of the United States, causing immense strain on infrastructure. The plumbing in your house is susceptible to damage provoked by extreme cold — damage that can prove both extensive and expensive.
HOW TO KNOW IF YOUR PIPES ARE FROZEN?
The first sign that you may have frozen water pipes is the most obvious: very little or no water coming out an open tap. If you turn on a faucet in winter and discover the flow restricted, ice in the supply pipes is the most likely culprit. If your pipes are visible (under a sink, for instance), you may even see frost on them. Also be aware of any strange smells coming from your plumbing, as drain pipes can freeze and clog with ice, too, forcing odors that are normally vented downward through the sewer system into your house instead.
The most vulnerable pipes in most houses will be those found running through or along exterior walls and those located in attics, basements and crawlspaces. These are often installed with inadequate insulation to ward off the effects of unusually cold weather, especially in the traditionally warmer climate of the southern United States. If you have an in-ground sprinkler system or plumbing lines supplying water to an outdoor swimming pool, bear in mind that these are also in jeopardy in times of extreme cold.
WHAT TO DO WHEN A PIPE FREEZES
Water freezes when the ambient temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and expands as it does so, creating enough pressure to rupture both plastic and metal water pipes. Next thing you know, you have an open pipe, potentially creating a geyser in your home, flooding living spaces and causing water damage that can cost you thousands of dollars.
But don’t panic! Not all frozen pipes burst, and in some cases you may be able to solve the problem yourself without calling in professional help. It is also possible that a frozen pipe will thaw on its own, but experts agree that this is not a time you want to tempt fate — it is best to take immediate action to prevent possible catastrophe. Here are steps to take should you find a frozen pipe in your home:
- Open the cold and/or hot water faucet that is closest to the frozen pipe. This can relieve some of the built-up pressure and reduce the chance of that pipe rupturing.
- Attempt to warm up the pipe. You can do this by applying heat to the section of the pipe using an electric heating pad, hair dryer, space heater or towels soaked in hot water. Never use a blow torch or any other open flame device when thawing pipes.
- Check all the other faucets in your home by letting them run for a minute or two. If you have one frozen pipe, it is likely there may be others.
- Know where your main water shutoff valve is located. If your pipe bursts it will be critical to turn off your main water supply as soon as possible. It’s also important to call a professional plumber right away.
Sometimes the area where a pipe is frozen is not easily accessible, and calling in a professional plumber is the best course of action. Plumbers are equipped to get into tight spaces and apply direct heat where needed to thaw frozen pipes. Unfortunately, in some cases they may have to cut away sections of wallboard or other finish materials to access the plumbing.
You should also be prepared for the possibility of an interruption in the delivery of city water to your house due to the effects of extremely cold weather on civil infrastructure. Water main breaks and frozen water meters occur often during the winter months. It’s a good idea to keep three days’ worth of fresh drinking water on hand during the winter months. That equates to about one to two gallons of water per person per day and additional water for any pets in the home.
PREVENTING YOUR PIPES FROM FREEZING
According to figures from State Farm Insurance, the average claim to repair water damage caused by frozen pipes is roughly $15,000 — and more extreme cases have cost $70,000 or more to clean up. (And this is only if your insurance policy covers this type of claim. If you aren’t sure about yours, check with your agent ASAP!) These cost figures illustrate the importance of prevention. Here are some useful tips to help prevent your pipes from freezing:
- Open faucets to allow a tiny trickle of water to run through. Keeping the water moving helps prevent it from freezing. If pipes located inside cabinetry are in jeopardy of freezing, open the cabinet doors to allow warm room air into the space.
- Insulate exposed pipes and/or the spaces in which they are installed in your house. Upgrading your whole house’s weatherstripping, insulation, windows and doors helps keep everything inside — including your plumbing —warmer during times of extreme cold weather. And you’ll save energy, too!
- Drain outdoor sprinkler system lines, hoses and other pipes that get exposed directly to weather.
CONTACT A PLUMBER TO FIX FROZEN PIPES
Ruptured frozen water pipes are among the costliest of the common winter-related repairs and renovations, and as illustrated above, a simple course of routine preventative maintenance may prevent your home from ever suffering such a disaster. If, however, you find you have a frozen pipe this winter, our Comfort Systems plumbers in Wichita won’t leave you out in the cold. We can thaw your frozen pipes — and take care of any other plumbing emergency you might face. Give us a call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you can chill out knowing we don’t charge extra for weekend or evening calls.