Living in a cold climate can come with many advantages, but months of freezing temperatures can cause problems in your home. From the burden of snow on your roof to the potential for water damage from precipitation, winter can pack a punch. One of the problems most homeowners don’t foresee, however, is freezing and bursting pipes when the temperatures drop.
What Causes Pipes to Freeze and Burst?
Pipes bursting and freezing in the winter can be an expensive and serious problem, and one that many homeowners never see coming. Both consistently cold temperatures and fluctuating temperatures over the winter months can cause serious problems, leading to what could be thousands of dollars in damage.
Pipes freeze when the temperatures drop too low for water to stay liquid in the pipes, expanding and putting pressure on the walls of a pipe. Bursting occurs when this process of freezing, expansion, and melting weakens pipes over time, often following a complete ice block. The increased pressure between a frozen block and a closed faucet can cause a pipe to burst, a problem that can lead to costly repairs and potentially the replacement of the pipes in your home.
Repairing Frozen or Burst Pipes
When pipes freeze or burst, a quick fix is essential. If you turn on the faucet and nothing comes out, assume there is a frozen pipe in your home. Frozen pipes, if caught early, can be treated by heating frozen areas quickly to prevent long-term damage. Leave the faucet open, turn the water off at the stop valve, and treat the frozen section of pipe by using a heating pad, electric blanket, hairdryer, or towels soaked in hot water. Never use any open flame device to attempt to thaw a frozen blockage in your pipes. If you notice any leaking once water is flowing again, turn the water off and call a plumber immediately.
Frozen pipes can pose a large problem, but burst pipes are generally worse. If you find a burst pipe in your home, turn off the water at the valve immediately. In this scenario, a professional plumber is essential; do not try to find the break and repair it yourself. Check your homeowner’s insurance policy for coverage against water damage, and do what you can to take care of the water from the burst pipe. This may mean relocating any items with water damage, soaking up water in carpets and on the floor, and leaving doors and windows open where possible to speed up the drying process.
Hiring a Professional
When there’s a problem with the pipes, a professional plumber is your best resource. Frozen pipes can often be attended to by the homeowner, but when freezing is a common problem or you cannot find the frozen section of the pipe, it’s time to call in a professional. Also, if a pipe bursts, immediate attention by a plumber is crucial. A plumber can help you locate the problem, thaw out your pipes, and insulate against future freezing. Repairing a pipe can be tricky and may end up causing more problems, so hiring a plumber is a safe and smart option.
When hiring a plumber to take care of your pipes in the winter, it’s important to choose a licensed and bonded professional who is BBB Accredited. The pipes that supply water to your home are very important, and you need someone you can trust to handle the repairs.
Preventing Pipe Damage
Repairing is a worst-case scenario; instead of counting on an expensive fix, many homeowners would rather take steps early to prevent damage before it happens. Preventing damage to pipes in the winter takes some attention to detail, but a few simple steps can be the difference between a complex repair job and a problem-free winter.
Before the weather drops, open all outdoor valves to avoid a buildup in pressure, drain and store any outdoor hoses, and ensure all pipes are insulated properly. If your pipes aren’t adequately insulated, consider using heat tape or pipe insulation to keep your exposed pipes warm through the winter. Once cold weather sets in, keep your garage doors closed to prevent cold weather from penetrating water supply lines and open cupboards below sinks to keep warm air circulating. When temperatures are very low, let cold water drip from your faucets. Even a small flow of water can prevent freezing, making it less likely cold weather will cause damage.
Pipes that freeze or burst in the winter can create a very unfortunate yet incredibly common problem. While there’s no way to prevent cold weather, taking the proper precautions and calling a professional at the first sign of trouble can alleviate the need for expensive repair bills and keep your water flowing, even when the temps drop below zero.