How to Avoid Frozen Pipes & What to Do If It Happens!
Alex "Solar Girl" Steele
When the abrasively cold winter temperatures come rolling in, staying warm is a top priority on everyone’s minds. After all, it’s really hard to feel comfortable or healthy when the air hurts your face! Maybe this time of year you’re planning an escape to a tropical paradise… But the last thing you want to deal with when you come home is a flood! Cold temperatures can lower people’s immune systems and speed up the transmission of viruses, but did you know that the cold can also damage your home’s plumbing system? Frozen pipes can seriously damage your home, resulting in thousands of dollars in repair costs and even threats to your health. Take a look at our recommended procedure for winterizing your pipes, and advice on what to do if you suspect your pipes may have frozen.
Water is one of the few substances that expands instead of contracting as it freezes. It expands by about 9% when it freezes, and although this doesn’t sound like much of a change, it can spell disaster for water pipes. If neglected long enough, a frozen pipe can burst, but it typically doesn’t happen at the site of the freeze. The frozen area of a pipe will force liquid water further down, causing a burst and leakage between the faucet and the ice blockage, making it difficult to locate the source of the problem. Most pipes freeze in unheated interior areas, such as the basement, attic or garage. These areas may stay warmer than the outside temperature, but even a small exposure to the elements, such as a little crack or hole to let electrical cables into a space are large enough to let cold air penetrate and freeze pipes.
So, how cold does it need to be before you should start worrying about freezing pipes? According to the Building Research Council at University of Illinois, once the outside temp drops below 20?, that’s when the unheated areas of your home become susceptible to freezing. However, even slightly warmer conditions can cause freezing and bursting if there is a serious windchill or other weather externality. It’s better to be proactive and take steps to protect your plumbing before the worst case scenario happens, instead of hoping temperatures don’t drop to unsafe levels. Plan to stay one step ahead of the elements!
Before the cold hits, consider insulating your pipes and sealing any drafty areas of your property. This is a simple process that can be done independently, or you can consult a qualified technician to do the job if you don’t feel confident doing it alone. Insulating crawl spaces and applying electrical heating tape to your pipes can also keep your infrastructure warm and secure throughout the winter.
If the cold has already hit and you’re starting to worry a frozen pipe could be in your future, there are steps you can take to mitigate the risk. First, be sure you have your heat set to at least 55?, even if no one will be in the house for an extended period of time. Keeping your house at a steady temperature is key for maintaining the integrity of your plumbing infrastructure. Be sure that any garage and exterior doors are completely closed at all times; this will help keep cold air out. Meanwhile, leaving interior doors (and even cabinets!) open will let warm air thoroughly circulate your house, maintaining steady temperatures in every area of the building. If you’ve done all this but you’re still concerned, you can leave all of your faucets on a drip - the constant flow of liquid will prevent the pipe from freezing and bursting!
If you follow these steps, you should be safe from freezing or bursting pipes ruining your winter. However, if the unthinkable happens, keep Aqua Wolf Plumbing’s number handy. We are equipped to handle plumbing emergencies 24/7, so don’t be afraid to reach out if you’re faced with a disaster. We have the tools, team and training to stop frozen pipes at the source and make worries about plumbing winterization a thing of the past!