Once weather forecasts predict below-average temperatures through March, many people don’t think about what to do when pipes freeze. They think it’s a limited problem and will affect only a few homes and offices each year.
Insurance industry studies have found the amount of water damage generated by frozen and broken water pipes ranks second behind hurricanes in the number of homes damaged and the amount of insurance claim costs in the U.S. each year.
250,000 Homes Burst Pipes Annually
Resulting in $400-500 Million in Damages
Let’s Review What to do When Pipes Freeze
The root of the problem is the nature of water itself. Almost every material in the universe shrinks or contracts in size as its temperature lowers. Water contracts in a similar manner as the temperature drops, but only to 32° degrees Fahrenheit. Below that temperature, water has a unique property - it begins expanding.
Imagine a sealed pipe filled with water as the temperature drops. Both the pipe and the water contract down to 32° degrees with no problem. At 32° degrees and below, however, the pipe is still shrinking in size while the water starts growing in size. With faucets closed, the pipes cannot release the increasing pressure of the frozen water.
Intense pressure develops and increases until the pipe splits or tears to release the tension. Both plastic (PVC) pipes and copper pipes may burst. The water is still frozen and will not begin dripping, leaking, or spraying until it thaws back into a liquid. When the thawing does occur, the water escapes the pipe and starts water damage. One 1/8-inch split in a pipe can release as much as 250 gallons of water in one day.
Water can soak into walls and insulation, ceilings, floors, carpeting and cushion, rugs, furniture, HVAC systems, electrical systems, contents, etc. Without quick action to shut off the water and to properly remediate the damage, the ensuing loss will rapidly progress to higher and higher claim costs.
The best approach to the whole threat of frozen water damage would be prevention. The pipes most susceptible to freezing are usually those that are near outer walls, in crawl spaces or the attic.
All of these pipes should be adequately insulated and even wrapped with approved heat tape where necessary. Outside leaks of air should be sealed. Garden hoses should be disconnected, and where possible, pipes leading to external pipes should be shut off and drained.
Open doors to interior cabinets containing water pipes to circulate warm air inside them. As a hard freeze approaches, open both hot and cold faucets to a trickle to help prevent the water from freezing.
Keep the thermostat set a little higher (70 degrees minimum) during hard freezes and threats of power outages. Let’s not forget the possibility for frozen pipes while we are away on trips. Set the thermostat at 55 degrees for a buffer margin. It is always a good idea to shut off the water to the house when you leave.
For extended periods, drain the system. Make arrangements for a friend or neighbor to check on the house while you are away. One way many people discover a frozen pipe is finding there is no water flowing from a faucet when opened. If the section frozen is visible and accessible, some individuals may try to thaw it themselves. First, remember to be prepared to get sprayed if the pipe has already split but not spraying the water until thawed.
Be aware of possible electrical hazards if the water reaches electrical wiring or outlets. Although some plumbers may utilize torches to thaw a frozen pipe, homeowners should not use any device hotter than a hairdryer. Many people, unfortunately, are unaware the pipe is frozen until it splits or bursts, thaws, and then starts spraying water like a fire hydrant.
If the pipe is hidden inside a wall, inside a cabinet, in a crawlspace or attic, or between floors, the exact location may be harder to detect and repair. Once the leak is detected, shut off the nearest valve and call a plumber to fix the pipe. And call Action Restoration to mitigate the damage.
Typical mitigation services for what to do when pipes freeze, leak or burst include:
Protection of structure and contents from further water damage
Extraction of the water
Removal of the residue
Deodorization and steps to prevent mold growth
Setup of drying equipment (air movers, dehumidifiers, wall cavity drying units, etc.)
When insulation gets wet, the cavity must be opened to remove it and allow air movement for drying. Salvable carpet, pad, and rugs need to be cleaned and dried to prevent further damage and odor. Where electricity is out, portable or supplemental power generators may be necessary. Additional heat may also be needed.
Once the plumber repairs the pipes, Action Restoration’s crews can assist in the assessment and rehabilitation of the damage to return the property to a safe and dry pre-loss condition.