As temperatures continue to dip below the freezing mark, many home and business owners in the Parkland are dealing with frozen pipes. Local experts have provided some advice on how to avoid hundreds, or even thousands, in costly repair bills.
Scott Plummer, owner of Plummer’s Hardware in Farmington, said any time pipes are exposed they must be insulated.
“If you have any kind of plumbing, no matter if it’s a drainpipe or a water supply pipe in your wall and it’s exposed to below freezing temperatures, you definitely need some type of insulation or it will freeze,” Plummer said.
If it’s impossible to insulate a pipe effectively, another option might be a heat tape.
“If a pipe is exposed to the weather and you can’t put insulation around it then you need to put heat tape on there. The tape goes on to copper or any type of pipe and puts out heat that will keep it from freezing. You have to plug it into an extension cord or some sort of power source, but if you have pipes exposed to the weather and you can’t put insulation around them that is your best option,” said Plummer.
Plummer also said that when pipes freeze, they may not burst until they begin to thaw. He suggests that residents locate the main water shut off valve in order to be prepared in case of an emergency.
Thomas Wormsley, owner of Thomas’ Handyman Service, suggested foam covering as a cheap and easy way to insulate pipes.
“For the ones inside, such as those in a crawlspace, it’s a good idea to cover them with a foam pipe covering,” Wormsley said.
David Hedrick, director of the MU Extension’s Fire and Rescue Training Institute, also provided some tips for avoiding costly repairs.
Opening cabinet doors below sinks will allow heat to get in the pipes. A heat source such as a shielded light bulb placed near water pipes also can be effective. Hedrick cautioned that the light bulb should not meet combustibles, which could ignite a fire.
One method Hedrick warns against is allowing water to run from the faucet.
“That could create problems with water pressure and storage water in public water systems, which could affect the available water for firefighting purposes,” he said.
If water pipes do freeze, Ronn Phillips, MU associate professor of architectural studies, cautions homeowners to proceed cautiously.
“The object is to thaw the pipe at the same rate that it froze, so it doesn’t damage the pipes,” Phillips said. “Nothing damages a pipe faster than dislodging the joints on a soldered connection. The joints are the weakest point.”
Phillips said the first step is to relieve the pressure in the line by turning on the faucet.
Next, apply heat to the frozen section of the pipe. “Something as simple as a light bulb will work,” he said. Hedrick said a blow dryer works equally well.
The heat source should thaw the pipe slowly, Phillips said. “Blowtorches or kerosene and propane heaters heat up too quickly and could cause the pipe to break.
Hedrick noted that any kind of direct flame increases the risk of setting surrounding materials on fire.
Phillips urges homeowners to be especially careful with plastic pipes, which have a lower melting point than copper pipes. He added that plastic pipe would become brittle and rigid at low temperatures.
“Plastic is renowned for busting before copper,” he said.