Cold temperatures pose several real dangers to both life and property. One of the main risks associated with very cold temperatures is the possibility of water pipes freezing and in some cases, bursting.
As stated on the American Red Cross website, “Water has a unique property in that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. No matter the strength of a container, expanding water can cause pipes to break.”
The pipes that are most at risk are ones exposed to severe cold outdoors, in unheated areas of the home or in areas with little or no insulation. The Red Cross recommends several tips for protecting pipes, preventing freezing and thawing already frozen pipes.
Drain water from outdoor supply lines to pools or water sprinklers. Antifreeze should not be used in these lines unless directed by manufacturer’s instructions. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs, then open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keeping the outside valve open allows remaining water in the pipe to expand without building up pressure.
Add insulation to under-insulated areas such as attics and crawl spaces. Consider installing products made to insulate water pipes—even a quarter inch of newspaper can provide significant protection for pipes located in areas that aren’t exposed to frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.
Also, consider moving pipes from exposed areas to better insulated areas to provide protection from freezing.
Additional steps that can help prevent frozen pipes include keeping garage doors closed if water lines are present in the garage, opening cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate around water pipes, letting water drip from faucets during very cold temperatures, maintaining a consistent temperature in the home both day and night and if leaving your home unattended, leave the heat on at a temperature no lower than 55 degrees.
In addition to preparing for cold weather, it is important to know how to identify frozen pipes during cold weather.
The Red Cross says that if you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, you should suspect a frozen pipe during cold weather. Keeping the faucet open as you proceed with thawing the pipe can help the process as water will begin to flow more freely.
Heat should be applied to the frozen section of pipe once it is identified by using an electric heating pad, a hair dryer, a portable space heater or by wrapping the pipe with towels soaked in hot water. No open flame or device producing flame should be used on water pipes.
Continue applying heat until water pressure is restored, then check other faucets in your home for more frozen pipes.
If you can not locate the frozen area or cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.