How to handle frozen pipes in winter

How to handle frozen pipes in winter

The months of December, January and February are normally the coldest months of the year throughout the United States, according to The Weather Channel.

Here in northwest Iowa, winter more often than not comes with those bitterly cold temperatures that most of the Upper Midwest also feel. Our winter season can sometimes stretch itself even further. Those low temperatures and the wintery weather that comes with them can cause headaches for property owners.

One of the common issues faced by many families is frozen pipes. The Insurance Journal claims that each year, on average, a quarter of a million families across the country will have to deal with frozen pipes. The Insurance Institute for Business and Safety says water damage due to frozen pipes (PDF) can reach $5,000.

You don't have to be part of that statistic, though. With some understanding of why pipes freeze, you can understand how to prevent frozen pipes in winter.

However, should you come across frozen pipes in your home, here is more information on how to handle the situation.

Why pipes freeze and burst

To best understand how to handle frozen pipes in winter, let's start with when and why pipes can freeze in your home.

In general, the temperature outside of 20 degrees or lower can cause pipes to freeze. According to the Insurance Institute for Business and Safety, water in the pipes freeze when heat in the water gets transferred to temperatures that are below freezing.

Pipes at the most risk of freezing are those located in areas with little or no insulation. Any pipe that runs along outside walls, floors and ceilings is at risk. Also of concern are pipes found in unheated spaces, such as garages, attics, basements, and inside cabinets.

Burst pipes

Pipes burst because ice builds up, which blocks the flow of water, then the continued freezing and expanding inside the pipe causes water pressure downstream from the blockage to increase. The water pressure causes the pipes to burst.

Water gushing out of burst pipes can cause extensive damage.

Prevention is your best bet

Prevention is the best way to combat frozen pipes and the damage they can cause when they burst. Here are a few tips to help prevent your pipes from freezing and bursting.

1. Disconnect hoses from outdoor faucets.

Disconnect and garden hoses from outside when you're getting everything else in your yard ready for winter. Like pipes, any leftover water in a connected hose can freeze, which creates increased water pressure throughout your home's entire plumbing systems.

2. Let water drip from faucets.

If temperatures outside dip toward extremely cold, then run faucets at a slow drip. The moving water can help prevent freezing.

3. Keep inside doors open.

Open up the doors inside to let heat flow through your home. That way, the heat can get to all rooms and reach any pipes that may be feeling a little more of a chill in the winter.

You can also open cabinet doors to let heat warm up any pipes there, such as in kitchens and bathroom.

4. Wrap any un-insulate pipes.

There are a variety of reasonably priced materials that you can easily find to add a layer of insulation to pipes. A couple of common examples include foam tubes made to wrap around pipes and heat tape.

5. Keep the heat on.

It's OK to want to save a little money, especially if you're not at home much during the winter, but don't turn off the heat.

Keep the thermostat set above 50 degrees. Sure, your furnace will still have to run a little while you're gone, but the utility bill will be less than any costs to repair damage from a burst pipe.

How to thaw frozen pipes

When you go to turn on a faucet and only a trickle or no water comes out at all, then you may have a frozen pipe. From there, it's highly recommended you contact contact a plumber.

If the pipe has already burst

In this scenario, locate the main shutoff valve and turn off the water. This is usually found by the water meter or where the main water line enters your home.

If you don't turn off the main shutoff valve before thawing burst pipes, then water is going to come rushing out and damage your home.

If no pipe has burst

There are a number of steps to take to thaw a frozen pipe.

First, turn on the faucet. You want to give water somewhere to go once the ice blockage in the pipe melts away.

You may then be able to thaw a pipe using a hair dryer. Start at the section of pipe close to the faucet, working your way down to the coldest portion. You can also use a space heater near a frozen pipe or wrap the pipe in thermostatically controlled heat tape.

Do not use electrical appliances near standing water due to risk of electrical shock. In addition, you should never use any tool with an open flame to thaw a frozen pipe because of the fire risk they pose.

Make sure the heat is applied until the water pressure from the faucet is back to normal. Once pressure returns, you should check all faucets in your home to see if you have any other pipes that have frozen.

If you're having trouble thawing a frozen pipe, or can't locate where the pipe is frozen, it's best to contact a plumber.

Contact Comfortec for your plumbing needs

A burst pipe can be a very frustrating experience. The damage that can be caused is no joking matter.

If you find yourself battling frozen pipes, don't hesitate to contact the team at Comfortec. We're known by our customers as the preferred heating, cooling and plumbing service provider in the Iowa Great Lakes because we're easy to get a hold of. We also provide 24-hour emergency service.

Reach out to us today by calling toll free 888-362-2106 or by contacting us online.

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