During prolonged periods of subfreezing weather, insufficiently protected water lines can form damaging ice blockages. Water contracts when cooled until reaching approximately 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Expansion commences with further cooling, increasing in volume by approximately 9% when frozen solid. This transformation from liquid to significantly expanded solid has no outlet in a closed plumbing system and can result in a ruptured water line.
Water damage caused by frozen and burst pipes is a regional phenomenon affecting structures located in temperate zones. Ruptured pipes will remain undetected until temperatures rise and the ice blockages thaws, allowing pressurized water to escape the fissure. Often, the result is significant flooding requiring plumbing repairs and professional water damage restoration services.
Identifying Frozen Pipes
Identifying frozen water lines is paramount to arresting the problem before far more severe ancillary damages caused by flooding can occur. Plumbing fixtures that will produce little or no water during a cold snap indicates an ice blockage. Additionally, visible frost coating a water line is another sign that ice is forming within the pipe.
Locating and turning off the valve controlling water delivery to a frozen and possibly burst pipe before it thaws will prevent flooding. If unable to identify a shutoff valve associated with a frozen and possibly fractured water line, turn off water service to the building entirely. This main shutoff can be found with the water meter, usually located in the basement.
Thawing Frozen Pipes
Thawing a frozen pipe could save an intact water line from bursting and restore water service to the unresponsive fixture. Extreme caution is advised when defrosting water lines, as dislodging the blockage in a pipe that has already burst will cause flooding and water damage.
Identifying the location of the ice blockage is paramount to successfully thawing the pipe. Pinpointing the obstruction may prove challenging as water lines often traverse inaccessible areas, such as floor and wall cavities. If unable to find the frozen area, enlist the service of a plumber.
Slowly warming frozen water lines with a heating pad, hair dryer or space heater should dislodge the blockage and allow water to flow freely. Never pour hot water on frozen plumbing or try to thaw pipes with a blowtorch. The hot water usually freezes on the outside of the pipe, and the torch can cause frozen pipes to explode if steam is produced. Also, do not strike pipes to break up the ice, as hammer blows can cause pipes to crack.
Preventing Frozen Pipes
Pipes most at risk of freezing are those in unheated interior spaces such as basements, attics, and garages. Water lines running through cabinets or exterior walls may also freeze. In the event of a polar front lasting more than a few days, there are several options available to prevent frozen plumbing.
Opening faucets and allowing a slow trickle during the duration of a cold wave is an eleventh-hour method used to avoid frozen plumbing. Anticipating the onslaught of frigid weather and taking preemptive action is preferable to such a last dich effort.
Insulating pipes that are vulnerable to cold weather is an inexpensive task that is easily accomplished, and well insulated pipes are considerably less likely to freeze. Another option is to install a circulating pump, which prevents freezing by periodically moving moderately warm water through a plumbing system.
Persistent sub-freezing weather conditions are most commonly responsible for water damage resulting from bust plumbing. Implementing the preemptive measures listed above is the best method of avoiding burst water lines and the ensuing water damage. Nevertheless, during a cold wave it is important to regularly check plumbing appliances for unimpeded water flow.
Water Damage Restoration Professionals
In the unfortunate event of flooding resulting from a frozen and burst water line, Property Recovery 911 can safely dry, deodorize and disinfect your property. We are highly trained, IICRC Certified, licensed, and insured water damage restoration professionals. Contact Us at (267) 808-7200 to alleviate the devastating effects of water damage. We are prepared and on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to dispatch a rapid response water mitigation team that can be on site within 1 hour protecting your interests.