What Happens When A Water Pipe Freezes?

Yesterday it was 80 degrees. This morning it’s 28 degrees. It’s an excuse to break out my leather jacket for sure. There’s nothing like a little wind chill to remind you you’re alive.

I spent a lot of time last weekend getting my home and yard ready for this cold snap. That included checking my water pipes.

What actually happens when a water pipe freezes?

When temperatures drop suddenly and sharply, the water inside the pipe freezes. When water freezes, it expands. Because there’s no place for it to go the expansion creates pressure that can build as high as 2,000 pounds per square inch. That pressure has to go somewhere. It will find the weakest part of the pipe. When it does, you’ve got an unwanted water fountain in your house.

Pipes that are in unheated crawl spaces, like pipes running below the floors in a pier and beam house, are susceptible to freezing. If there’s no heat source under there, it’s best to insulate the pipes by wrapping them.

Pipes in outside walls or under sinks that are next to an outside wall are also vulnerable to cold weather. Consider opening the cabinet door to allow heat from the room to enter the area under the sink.

If you discover your pipes are frozen but they haven’t yet burst, consider yourself fortunate and get busy unthawing them. Our tendency in extreme situations is to respond with an equally extreme solution. Don’t do this. Don’t use a torch or anything with an open flame to thaw your pipes. Many home fires are caused when attempting to thaw pipes this way.

When you locate the spot where the pipe is frozen, use non-flame heat sources to thaw the pipe. Hair dryers and high-powered portable heaters work well.

Don’t focus on the frozen spot in the middle of the pipe! When the water melts, it will still have nowhere to go and add to the already high internal pressure. Instead, start from the faucet and work backwards. Open the faucet and as the water melts, it will drain away.

One trick to help you open the pipe faster? Use a metal baking sheet/cookie sheet from your kitchen. Place it behind the pipe as you’re applying the heat. The heat will radiate off the sheet and begin to thaw the back side of the water pipe.

If your frozen pipe is behind a wall, you’ve got a more complicated problem. If you’re unsure about where the frozen spot is, call a professional plumbing company. You don’t want to randomly cut pieces of drywall out of your home trying to isolate the problem. Let the pros help you figure that out.

Of course the best way to deal with a problem is to prevent it from happening. Wrapping your vulnerable pipes with electric heat tape can give you peace of mind during cold weather. This tape contains heating elements that, when plugged in, generate heat. Think of it as an electric blanket for your water pipes. When the temperature drops, just plug it in and your pipes will stay toasty warm.

The professionals at Sinclair want to keep you toasty warm this winter. That includes your pipes and your home. Give them a call to winterize your pipes and your furnace so you can settle in and enjoy your change of season with peace of mind. 806-749-2665.

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