In order for your pipes to be safe during freezing temperatures, they need to be protected. Pipes are protected by one or a combination of a building’s insulation, insulation placed around the pipes, and the heat produced by a building. It is important to prepare your pipes for the cold as you carry out your fall home maintenance.
How do pipes freeze in the first place?
There are three instances that cause pipes to freeze: when the temperature drops quickly, and the cold air freezes the water inside the pipes; when the pipes or building is poorly insulated; or when the thermostat is set too low in the home. If you live in Iowa or any other northerly area of the United States, then it is pretty likely that your house was built with its water pipes located inside insulated areas of the home. Southern states need to beware if they experience sudden drops in temperatures because their pipes are very likely located outside of the building’s insulation, unprotected. Even so, those of us located up north still need to take precautions when we experience extremely cold temperatures that can lead to frozen pipes. Drafts, holes, spaces, or cracks in our homes (even very small ones) can let in cold air that can come into contact with our pipes. Areas that are most vulnerable to freezing include attics, crawl spaces, and outer walls.
How do pipes burst?
Think about that time when you put a can of pop in the freezer and forgot about it. It very likely ended up exploding. This is because when liquid turns to ice (freezes), it expands and pushes outward, bursting the container holding it. When it comes to pipes, however, ice formation isn’t usually the sole reason pipes burst. It is usually due to ice blockage that creates higher water pressure inside the pipe. When the pressure becomes too much, it leads to pipe failure. According to Angie’s List, a small 1/8-inch crack in a pipe could spew up to 250 gallons of water in a single day! You can prevent any freezing that leads to this disaster by assuring your pipes are prepared for the cold.
How do I prevent my pipes from freezing and bursting?
- If any water lines are located inside your garage, keep the door shut during the cold months.
- Seal your home in areas that may be letting in drafts, such as around doors and windows. (Check out tips on weatherizing your home here.)
- If you have any pipes located in your attic or crawl spaces, they should be insulated, particularly if the area is not heated properly during the winter. Pipe insulation is available in either foam or fiberglass sleeves at local hardware or home maintenance stores.
- During very cold temperatures, do not lower your thermostat at night. When the heat is turned down at night when temperatures lower, less heat rises to the attic, and piping in that area is more susceptible to freezing.
- It’s smart to let faucets drip during very cold winters so that the water is never at a standstill inside the pipes. When water is constantly flowing, it is much less likely to freeze.
What do I do if my pipes do freeze?
One way to know your pipes have frozen is if you turn on your faucet and no water comes out. Sometimes you can thaw your pipes by using a hair dryer or space heater. Make sure your faucet is turned on and you are not standing in water while operating the hair dryer. Never use an open flame to thaw a frozen pipe. Contact your plumber if you are unsure of how to proceed or if you need a professional opinion.
What do I do if my pipes burst?
The two major factors that will determine how much damage a burst pipe will cause are timing and preparedness. Before you ever have this experience, make sure all capable family members in your household are aware of the location of the main shutoff valve in your home and how to turn it on and off. If a pipe bursts, immediately make your way to the main shutoff valve and turn off the water as quickly as possible. Turn on your faucets to drain any water that is left inside the pipes. Then call an emergency plumber right away for further assistance.
These are great tips to keep in mind over the next few months as temperatures begin to drop. If you want more information on how to treat your home and make sure it is ready for the cold, feel free to contact Cyclone Contracting, located in Ames, Iowa.