Frozen Pipes? Here’s What to Do
Turning on the faucet or shower on a cold morning and having no water come out of the tap is a scary situation. When pipes freeze, the water inside them expands. Eventually, the pipes and fixtures can’t contain the pressure and so they burst, sometimes a filling a house with water that gushes from the rupture. According to State Farm, the average insurance claim related to frozen pipes is $15,000. Even though a thaw is allegedly on it’s way, that doesn’t mean the risk is gone. Often when frozen pipes start to thaw is when they rupture.
So what do you do about frozen pipes? If you have frozen pipes now, the first thing is to check the other taps in the house. If all the fixtures are affected, you know it’s the main line coming from the well or municipal water supply. If you know where your water meter is located, that’s a good place to start warming the main line. You can heat the main line with a hair dryer, heating pad, or electric blanket. Also, try your best to warm the space around the main line by opening or closing doors, cranking up the thermostat, and perhaps using space heaters. Don’t use a torch to thaw the pipes, as the risk of fire is too great. In fact, the incidence of house fires goes way up during cold spells as folks improvise various methods to keep their pipes and homes warm.
If your frozen pipes are in a more local area, such as a single fixture or a bathroom, look in the basement or crawlspace for the water lines that supply the affected part of the house. You should follow the pipes backward from the affected fixture, feeling along their length for cold spots. Pipes that run through garages, crawlspaces, and exterior walls are especially prone to freezing, so check out any exposed pipes in those locations. Start warming the coldest section of piping you can access with the methods described above. You often don’t have to find the exact spot where the pipe is frozen, as any heat applied down the line will gradually move toward the frozen section on its own. If you can’t thaw the pipe on your own, call a plumber to thaw it before it bursts.
To prevent pipes from freezing in the future, seal any air leaks that allow cold outside air to come in contact with your home’s piping. Look for holes in the home’s exterior and any holes in the framing through which the pipes are routed. These holes are often left unsealed, and the resulting air leaks allow cold air to come in contact with the pipes while at the same time displacing warm interior air that keeps the pipes warm. You can insulate the pipes that run through unconditioned spaces, but it’s better to move them to a warmer spot if possible.
If you have pipes prone to freezing, you should keep cabinet doors and bathroom doors open during cold spells to allow warm interior air into the space. Consider using space heaters in places where pipes have frozen in the past. Disconnect hoses from outside spigots, and turn up the thermostat if you’re expecting especially cold temperatures.
When building and remodeling, don’t route pipes through exterior walls or through unconditioned attics and crawlspaces, and be sure to seal the holes where the pipes and wires go through the framing. When you’re leaving your home for two days or more during cold weather, have a neighbor check on the house every day or two to ensure the heating system is operating. You can also get freeze alarms that call you or your heating contractor when there’s a problem with your heating system. There are also high-tech thermostats that do the same.