Frozen Water Pipes FAQ

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What are some common reasons for frozen pipes?

Water pipes will usually be more susceptible to freezing when the outdoor air temperature is below freezing for more than a few days. Special attention should be given when the outdoor air temperature does not rise above zero degrees during the daytime hours. Some reasons include:

  • Unheated basement where the water meter and pipes are located.
  • Uninsulated pipes which are against outside walls.
  • Open windows near water meters or pipes.
  • Openings or cracks which allow cold outside air near the water meter or pipes.
  • Water meter pipes enclosed or boxed in against outside wall.

How do I know if my pipes are frozen?

Generally, when a pipe feeding a certain fixture (such as a shower, sink or toilet) freezes, you will no longer be able to get water through that fixture. This would be the case if the pipe is frozen solid.

Why do frozen water pipes break?

When water freezes within a pipe, the volume of the water expands. That is, the same amount of water takes up more space as a solid than as a liquid. This causes the pipes to expand and possibly break at a weak point. This may not be noticed immediately, however. The pipes may thaw from the inside out with the pipe actually breaking only when the full water pressure is restored.

Do only pipes inside the house freeze?

No. Not only is your inside plumbing susceptible to freezing, but your water service could also be subject to freezing. This is caused by frost in the ground encasing your service in ice, thereby freezing your service. This is especially typical of shallow (less than five feet deep) services.

What should I do if my pipes freeze?

If your pipes freeze, your best course of action is to call a licensed master plumber. Improper thawing could cause your pipes to burst. There are, however, some procedures that you can follow to try to thaw them. The more quickly the problem is recognized, the better the chances are that damage will be minimized. Some techniques for thawing frozen pipes include:

  • If possible, expose a boxed-in area to the inside heat.
  • Use a heat gun. However, be extremely careful as the heat from the heat gun will ignite any wood or paper it contacts.
  • DO NOT use torches to thaw pipes!
  • Rubbing the pipes with warm, damp rags may slowly thaw the line.
  • If you do not have water for an extended period of time, special attention should be given to water heaters and boilers.

How can I prevent my pipes from freezing?

There are many ways to help prevent your water pipes from freezing in extreme weather. Some suggestions include:

  • Keeping the water meter area or pipes exposed to outside walls heated.
  • Providing ventilation to pipes allowing warmer air to circulate around them.
  • Insulating your pipes.
  • Caulking and sealing any openings near your water pipes.
  • Keeping some tap water running. (Moving water is more difficult to freeze, understanding however, this will affect your bill.)
  • If no one will be home for an extended period in extreme weather, it is best to turn your main valve off and have a plumber drain your system. This way, there will be no water in your pipes to freeze. Even if your pipes have not frozen in the past, severe cold can cause electricity blackouts and thereby disable your furnace. Winterizing your system will assure that your pipes do not freeze.