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Preventing Water Damage from Frozen Pipes

Freezing temperatures can result in frozen pipes. When water freezes it expands, creating pressure on its container. As a result, unprotected and uninsulated plastic or metal pipes can burst and potentially cause extensive water damage. It’s been reported that a 1/8-inch crack in a pipe can release up to 250 gallons of water per day, causing flooding, serious structural damage, and the potential for mold growth. There are 4 things that you can do to prevent frozen pipes and 4 things you can do to minimize damage in the event that you already have frozen pipes.

4 Things You Can Do to Help Prevent Frozen Pipes

  1. Locate water supply lines that are susceptible to freezing, including those in a basement, crawl space, attic, garage, or under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Insulate both hot and cold water pipes in these areas.  Water that is not flowing in a hot water supply line can freeze as easily as a cold water supply line.  One option is to allow water to trickle through the pipe so it won’t freeze.
  2. Install insulation that is designed to surround exposed pipes. Heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables can also be used to wrap pipes. You should only use products that are approved and designed for this purpose. Closely follow all manufacturers’ installation and operation instructions.
  3. Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. This will help prevent the freezing of water in the hose and hose bib that can result in pressure on the fitting. If you have inside valves that supply outdoor hose bibs shut them off and open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
  4. If you are leaving the property for an extended period of time during cold weather, you might consider the following:
    1. Make sure HVAC system is working properly,
    2. Do not set your thermostat lower than 55°F,
    3. Open doors to cabinets where the plumbing is located to allow heat to get to the water supply lines and drain, or
    4. Shut off and drain the water system. Be aware that if you have a fire suppression system in your house, it may be deactivated when you shut off the water.

A Word about Antifreeze
Some have suggested using antifreeze as an additive to drains to help prevent freezing.  There are basically two different antifreeze products that are currently being sold. One is more toxic than the other.  The more toxic version is made with ethylene glycol and the lower toxicity product is made with propylene glycol. The propylene glycol products are sometimes listed as non-toxic. They are certainly less toxic than traditional antifreeze, but they are not non-toxic. Disposal is less of a problem than with propylene glycol, however some geographic areas prohibit ANY dumping of used antifreeze down a sanitary sewer system or storm drain.

4 Things You Can Do to Minimize Damage from Frozen Pipes
If your pipes are frozen:

  • Turn on your faucet and if nothing comes out, leave the faucet turned on and call a plumber.
  • If your pipes are insulated, remove the insulation to allow the room heat to get to the pipe(s).
  • Don’t try to thaw a pipe with a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device. Water damage is preferable to fire damage!
  • You can use a hair dryer to thaw a frozen pipe starting as close to the faucet as possible, working back toward the fitting at the wall.

If pipes burst:

  • Turn off the water at the main shutoff valve in the house.
  • Do not operate electrical tools or appliances in standing water.
  • Leave the water faucets turned on.
  • call a qualified restorer and a plumber.

Remember that it is your obligation to mitigate your damages according to the terms of your insurance policy. Hiring a qualified restorer can help you to accomplish that obligation and save you money.

To find local restorers and contractors, check with the Cleaning and Restoration Association (CRA) website.