What You Can Do When Jack Frost Comes and Freezes Your Pipes

frozen-pipe
frozen-pipe

There are some misconceptions about frozen pipes.  The leading misconception is that pipes only freeze in cold climates.  In fact, pipes are more likely to freeze in warm climates where houses do not have adequate insulation to protect the pipes.  I found this out the hard way.

I lived most of my life in New Hampshire where the worry of freezing pipes was talked about often.  When I moved to Texas where temperatures often reach into the 100’s I never thought my pipes would freeze. The very thought seemed absolutely ridiculous to me.  Yet, in 2007 we had a very cold winter here in Texas and one day I came home after work, turned on the faucet and nothing came out. I couldn’t imagine what had happened, had I forgotten to pay the bill, was there a faulty pipe or blockage? These were the questions that went through my mind.  The answer to these was “no”, in fact my pipes had frozen. The temperatures had reached down into the 20’s during the day and in about 10 hours my pipes had frozen. I had no idea what to do or how to fix this problem, but I knew I had to do something to keep them from bursting. I immediately called a plumber, but there were many things I could have done to rectify the problem on my own or prevent it without spending 100s of dollars to have a plumber do it for me.

What Causes Pipes to Freeze

frozen-pipes
frozen-pipes

There are quite a few factors that can lead to your house’s pipes freezing.  Of course the main factor is the temperature outside of your house and the interior temperature.  Temperatures that dip below the 20’s can cause your pipes to freeze. Another factor in pipes freezing are non insulated or poorly insulated pipes and pipes in attics that are not properly insulated.  In addition to these causes pipes can also freeze if you have cracks or holes in your windows, walls, attics, basements and garages. These cracks and holes can cause the temperature in your house to dip below freezing and thus freeze your pipes.  If you have open pipes in an unheated basement or garage, this can be catalyst for your pipes freezing. Also, if your pipes are made of copper or galvanized steel they will be more susceptible to freezing. Lastly, if the temperature in your house dips below freezing it can cause your pipes to freeze.

What Will Happen if Your Pipes Freeze

If your pipes freeze it can cause anything from a minor inconvenience to major damage to your house, depending on how long the pipe or pipes are frozen, how much water is leaking from them and whether they burst.   If the water inside your pipes freezes the pipes will expand and can cause a blockage. If the blockage is left for too long the water behind the blockage can cause the pipes to burst or crack. If they burst there can be thousands of dollars of damage done to your house.  If your house is left unoccupied for a long time and the pipes have frozen you can come home to walls and floors that have been completely destroyed. This can cost a lot of money to repair. If your pipes freeze and don’t burst, they may only cause a blockage which will result water not running in your home.  Neither of these options are pleasant. Knowing what you should do if your pipes freeze is very important.

What to Do When Your Pipes Freeze

There are several steps to take when you discover that your pipes are frozen and they have not burst:

DO:

  1. Find the section of pipe that has frozen
  2. Slowly heat the section of pipe that is frozen- you can use a hairdryer, a heating pad, wrap pipes in a towel soaked in hot water, or use a portable heater (make sure that there are no flammable materials near the pipe before you use a portable heater)
  3. Reduce the pressure in the pipes- reduce the pressure by turning the faucets about a quarter of a turn- when the pipes begin to thaw the water will start to flow, keep the faucets on until regular water pressure returns

DO NOT:

  1. Try to heat the pipes quickly- don’t light a fire, use a blow torch, use an open flame of any kind of kerosene or gas heater on the pipe
  2. Boil water inside the pipe- this will cause it to burst
  3. Start a fire near the pipe to try to thaw it- this could start a house fire and cause many additional problems

Note:  If you cannot find the frozen pipe in order to thaw it out, you should call a plumber.  

What to Do to Prevent Your Pipes from Freezing

There are many ways that you can insure that your pipes won’t freeze.   Taking these precautions can save you lots of aggravation and money in the long run:

  1. Make sure exposed pipes are properly insulated
  2. Use heating tape on exposed pipes
  3. Keep your heat on in the house to at least 55 degrees’ day and night
  4. Shut off water to outside valves, remove hoses and insulate outside faucets
  5. Keep interior doors open- especially to cabinets that contain pipes
  6. Let your faucets drip even when you are not at home- this will keep water flowing through the pipes and keep them from freezing
  7. Seal up any cracks or holes in your walls, windows, attic or basement

Pipes freezing can be a costly and aggravating situation.  The best prescription for this issue is prevention, but if you find yourself in the situation make sure to follow the tips here in order to safely thaw out your pipes.  You can prevent your house from sustaining massive damage when the temperature dips down and Jack Frost comes calling!