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Three Signs Your Pipes Have Frozen

Over the last several weeks, North Carolina and much of the Northern Midwest and Northeast have been blitzed by a polar vortex that has sent temperatures tumbling into single-digits or even negatives. Here in Charlotte, while we may have avoided the brunt of the vortex and the temperature levels that have dipped way down into negatives, homeowners everywhere still faced the threats of freezing temperatures and what they can do to their home.

Perhaps the largest threat: frozen pipes. Freezing temperatures can cause the water inside exposed plumbing lines to freeze, and that can cause all sorts of trouble. As water freezes, it expands, and that expansion places a lot of stress on the walls of your plumbing because the water simply has no extra space to expand to. As a result, you could experience anything from small fractures that cause slow leaks to pipe bursts that can completely flood a room in your home in as little as an hour or so.

So what can you do about this issue? Unless you have the ability to control the weather and prevent freezing temperatures, there’s nothing you can do about your pipes being exposed to these temperatures. You can take preventative steps, including covering exposed lines with plumbing insulation, but even that might not be enough to stop the water inside from freezing. That means the next best step is to know the signs that your pipes have frozen, and then prepare to take reactive measures in order to prevent serious damage when they defrost.

Here are three fairly easy to spot signs that you’re dealing with frozen pipes.

Your Water Doesn’t Turn On

It’s freezing cold outside, you turn on a water tap somewhere in your home, and suddenly you find that water isn’t coming out. The most likely cause is a frozen pipe somewhere in your home. This is particularly common with sinks and fixtures that are located on an exterior-facing wall, as the lines that feed them are often run through this wall, where they may or may not be properly insulated from the cold. That means it’s time to start preparing for what might happen when your water lines defrost and the water flows freely again.

Your Pipes are Frosty

If you can find an uninsulated, exposed segment of pipe in your home, take a moment to examine it. If frost is building up on the outside of the pipe, there’s a pretty strong chance that the water inside has frozen over. This usually happens because what little humidity and water vapor in the air inside your home quickly condenses and forms into water when it comes into contact with your plumbing line that’s filled with frozen water. The water vapor quickly freezes into a tiny ice crystal; an accumulation of crystals forms the frost that you see. While this may not be common with plastic plumbing lines, which don’t transfer heat nearly as well as copper or another metal material, it’s quite easy to spot frost on metallic plumbing lines.

Generally, it’s best to look for an indoor exposed plumbing line that’s located on or near an outdoor-facing wall. The easiest place to look: your main water line, which in many homes is exposed and located in your garage. This is especially true for homes where copper piping was retrofitted through a copper re-pipe service.

Strange Smells

Finally, if any odd smells are coming from your faucets or drains, this could be an indicator of a frozen pipe. When a pipe freezes, the only place these odors can escape is back through your plumbing fixture or drain, which means your nose will have to deal with the odor that’s impacting your home. This is particularly common with frozen drain lines, which can and do happen if they’re either buried shallow or the ground has frozen all the way down. Likewise, frigid air can enter a drain or sewer line, causing it to freeze the sludge or water which may be present, blocking up the line and leaving you to deal with the smell.

If your plumbing has frozen, contact our Charlotte Plumbers at (704) 842-9508 today to request an inspection appointment; we may be able to help you find any damage that has occurred and get it fixed as soon as possible so you can avoid a serious home emergency!