Ice Ice Baby…Bursting water pipes are a major concern when winter temperatures drop below the freezing point for many property owners. But exactly why do frozen pipes burst? Most people are surprised to find out that freezing pipes do not burst because of ice expanding in place. But Instead, it has more to do with the pressure inside the pipes themselves. When water physically freezes, its molecules crystalize into an open hexagonal form, which takes up more physical space than when the molecules are in their liquid form — that is, the water molecules expand as they freeze. This expanding and contracting back and forth causes stress on the pipe and can directly result in the pipe bursting.
Before Cold Weather HitsKnow the location of your water shut-off valve and test it regularly. If a pipe breaks, you will not want to have to find it then or, worse, wait for someone to arrive at your place to find it for you. In most single-family homes, the shut-off valve is in the basement or the crawl space, on a wall facing the street.
Keep your meter pit or curb stop valve accessible. In case of emergency, call your water company to turn off the water at the pit or cub box near the street.
When is it cold enough to Freeze?When should homeowners be alert to the danger of freezing pipes? In this region, weather scientists advise taking precautions at around 20°F.
If you think a pipe has already frozen
Do not wait for nature to take its course. Safely thaw the pipe as soon as possible or call a plumber for help.
If you, do it yourself, shut off the water or test the shut-off valve. You do not want water suddenly gushing from the pipe when it thaws. Slowly apply heat, starting close to the faucet end of the pipe, with the faucet open. Work towards the coldest section. Remember, slower is better. A hairdryer trained at the frozen area of the pipe is appropriate. A blow torch is not. Don’t use electrical appliances while standing in water; you could get electrocuted.
Water is incompressible
As the ice expands, it pushes water toward the closed faucet. This causes an immense amount of water pressure to build up between the ice blockage and the faucet itself. At some point, this may eventually lead to the point where the integrity of the pipe results in rupturing with enough pressure on the pipe. This usually occurs at a spot where there is little or no ice.
Where will it Burst?Listen The pipe most likely bursts away from the actual freeze location, and water pressure in a confined volume is a critically important part of the underlying cause.
Water Heaters Can Be Damaged If Pressure Expansion Fractures the LiningListen By heating or insulating these vulnerable pipes with fiberglass or foam sleeves can help protect and prevent them from bursting. Additionally, keeping the facet open and letting the water run, even at just a trickle will help prevent the water pressure from building to dangerous levels.
Drain Line Freeze and Overflow as A Cause of LossListen Although, a slow trickle can also cause your sewer drain to freeze shut. (Particularly with septic systems) As the water slowly runs through the pipes, all it takes is one drop to freeze… Then, it starts building an ice dam. [bsa_pro_ad_space id=5]
Frozen Pipe and Water Damage Triggers Coverage for CodeListen The International Plumbing Code requires pipes to be protected from freezing. “305.6 Freezing. Water, soil, and waste pipes shall not be installed outside of a building, in attics or crawl spaces, concealed in outside walls, or in any other place subjected to freezing temperature unless adequate provision is made to protect such pipes from freezing by insulation or heat or both. Exterior water supply system
Summertime Frozen Pipe Claims
piping shall be installed not less than 6 inches (152 mm) below the frost line and not less than 12 inches (305 mm) below grade.” -IPC (International Plumbing Code).
You should always, if possible, disconnect all garden hoses drain them and store them separately for the winter. If possible, you should always use the indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break. Exterior garden hoses that are left attached to outside faucets can cause the pipe to freeze within the wall.
The Exclusion (ISO HO3)Listen
- Freezing of a plumbing, heating, air conditioning, or automatic fire protective sprinkler system or of a household appliance, or by discharge, leakage, or overflow from within the system or appliance caused by freezing. This provision does not apply if you have used reasonable care to:
A – Maintain heat in the building; or
B – Shut off the water supply and drain all systems and appliances of water.
- Reasonable Repairs
- We will pay the reasonable cost incurred by you for the necessary measures taken solely to protect covered property that is damaged by a Peril Insured Against from further damage.
Heat FactorsListen The temperature of an unheated portion of a house is almost always at least a few degrees above the outdoor temperature. For example, an insulated attic may be at 37 degrees or 38 degrees F when the outdoor temperature is 32 degrees F.
Basements Tend to have Exposure
- Emergency plumbing bill
- Permanent plumbing Bill (may require access) line clean and testing
- HVAC repairs and services (do not accept removal of fins)
- Building and contents coverage
- Water as a commodity (if covered)
- Code coverage if it can apply
How to Thaw Frozen Pipes
If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely places for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
Apply heat to the section of the pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame devices.
Apply heat until the full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.
How to know if your frozen pipes are cracked.Listen When a pipe freezes, water may be completely blocked from coming out a tap. Or faucets could sputter, and spit as small amounts of water come out.
If a pipe is frozen, there is about a 50% chance it cracked and burst. It is hard to know for certain if you can’t pump water through the system.
If it is frozen and it thaws and you kick your water on, that is when you are going to be able to find your leaks. Compounding the problem is that pipes can break in more than one place. Quite often what happens is ‘OK we fixed that one,’ and then there is another one downstream.
For Additional Information
- Consumer Reports: “How to Prevent Your Pipes From Freezing”
- American Red Cross: “Frozen Pipes”
- USA Today: “Texas Winter Weather – Frozen Pipes Burst”
- waterone.org “Prevent Frozen Pipes”