Monday, January 24, 2011

Keep those pipes from becoming POPsicles!

Nothing is more irritating then the sudden realization that you have no water and that nagging possibility that your home may become a miniature version of  Niagara Falls at any minute.  Because of this, we thought it would be a good idea to put out some informative information about this fun phenomenon that plagues us cold climate dwellers, especially since, if you haven’t noticed, the temperature has been dipping into the negatives! 

Why does it matter if your pipes freeze?

Water expands when it freezes.  Because of this, pipes holding water at the time of freezing are put under a tremendous amount of pressure, which will cause them to break, regardless of their strength. 

What pipes should you be worried about?
Those that are exposed to severe cold:
  • Outdoor hose bibs
  • Swimming pool supply lines
  • Water sprinkler lines
  • Water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like:
    • Basements
    • Crawl spaces
    • Attics
    • Garages
    • Kitchen cabinet
  • Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation
How might you prevent frozen pipes you ask? 
  • Before it gets cold…
    • Drain the water from your swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer's or installer's directions
      • Do NOT put antifreeze in these lines unless directed
    • Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors
      • Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs
      • 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
    • Check around the house for other areas where water supply lines are located and are in unheated areas
      • Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets.
        • Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated!
        • A hot water supply line can freeze just as a cold water supply line can freeze if the water is not running through the pipe and the water temperature in the pipe is cold.
    • Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes
      • "Pipe sleeve"
      • UL-listed:
        • "Heat tape"
        • "Heat cable"
      • Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes
        • Even ¼" of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing!
Get PREVENTATIVE during cold weather!
·         Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
·         Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing
o   Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children!
·         If it’s very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes.
o   Did you know… running water through the pipe - even at a trickle - helps prevent pipes from freezing?
§  The temperature of the water running through it is above freezing!
·         Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night.
o   By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you might have a higher heating bill, but it won’t cost as much as repairing your pipes if they freeze and burst!
·         If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55ºF.
Oh no! You didn’t see these tips in time and your pipes froze?

How to thaw frozen pipes!  

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out… suspect a frozen pipe. Locate the suspected frozen area of the water pipe, which will likely be a pipe running against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
  • Keep the faucet open.
    • As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area… Running water through the pipe will help melt more ice in the pipe!
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water
    • Do NOT use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device!
      • A blowtorch can make water in a frozen pipe boil and cause the pipe to explode. All open flames in homes present a serious fire danger, as well as a severe risk of exposure to lethal carbon monoxide
    • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored.
      • If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber
  • Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too

How to protect yourself for the next cold wave?
  • Consider relocating exposed pipes to provide increased protection from freezing
  • Pipes can be relocated by a professional if the home is remodeled
  • Add insulation added to attics, basements, and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas.
For more information, please contact a licensed plumber or building professional.

For more information on disaster safety, check us out online or contact the American Red Cross Chapter Greater Buffalo Chapter at 716-886-7500!

Content derived from:  Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mississippi State University Extension Service, MH2 Technologies Ltd.,, State Farm Insurance Company, and Vancouver, BC, Waterworks Department.

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