Every winter, homeowners in cold climates face the possibility of frozen pipes. If left unaddressed, frozen pipes can burst. As you might imagine, this has the potential to cause serious structural damage to your home. Learn more about when and why pipes freeze, how to prevent frozen pipes, and what an emergency plumber can do to help get you back on your feet after a pipe burst.
Why Pipes Freeze
Most homes are built with pipes running through conditioned areas to protect them from subfreezing temperatures. However, holes in a building's outer layer combined with incredibly cold temperatures can lead to frozen pipes. Pipes running through the attic, crawlspace, unfinished basement, and along exterior walls are particularly vulnerable to freezing.
Much of the US gets cold enough each winter to threaten frozen pipes. While pipes can freeze when it's warmer than the designated "danger zone," the risk increases greatly when the outdoor temperature reaches 20 degrees or lower.
How to Prevent Frozen Pipes
If you love your pipes - and want to avoid the damage that could come from a burst pipe - your best bet is to pursue preventative measures. Follow these tips to help prevent frozen pipes this winter:
- Drain external water lines: Every fall, drain out your sprinkler system, disconnect and store all garden hoses, and turn off the water to exterior spigots.
- Seal air leaks: Most homes constructed in cold climates should be built without pipes running through unheated spaces. However, if your home's plumbing doesn't follow this protocol, the best way to prevent these vulnerable pipes from freezing is to seal external openings in unheated parts of your home with caulk and weatherstripping.
- Run a space heater: On especially cold nights, set up a space heater in unheated areas of your home where plumbing also runs, such as an unfinished basement. Run the heater just enough to keep the temperature above freezing.
- Insulate: As a rule of thumb all water pipes should be insulated within 5 inches of an exterior wall. For additional protection, you can use electric heating tape along spans of vulnerable plumbing and encase the heating tape with pipe insulation.
- Run a trickle of water: You can also let lukewarm water drip through the night to prevent frozen pipes. Even if the pipes still manage to freeze, keeping the tap open prevents pressure from building up so the pipe won't burst.
- Circulate air: Exposed pipes under the sink are also vulnerable to freezing. Keep them warm by leaving cabinet doors open overnight. You can even run a small fan to help circulate air into the cabinets.
When to Call an Emergency Plumber
If you wake up on a bitterly cold morning and water doesn't come out when you turn on the faucet, you could have a frozen pipe somewhere in your system. This is the time to call an emergency plumber, even if it's outside regular business hours. You may have a frozen pipe, but that doesn't mean it has burst yet. A fast response from a 24-hour plumber could give you a chance to thaw the pipe without further incident.
On the other hand, the pipe could burst but the water has yet to start dripping because it's still frozen. Again, fast action from an emergency plumber could allow you to remedy the problem with the smallest amount of structural damage possible.
If you have a frozen or burst pipe on your hands and need the help of a 24-hour emergency plumber, please contact Mr. Rooter® right away. We can help thaw out undamaged frozen pipes or replace sections of burst pipes with little interruption to your daily routine.