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Don't Let Frozen Pipes Put a Chill on your Home

Frozen pipes can be a homeowner’s worst nightmare – coming home after a long vacation only to find your kitchen (or entire home) flooded!  Nobody likes having all your appliances destroyed, carpet ruined, short circuited electronics, and especially angry downstairs neighbors.  Now, instead of unpacking and relaxing, you have to find a plumber to fix this mess.

Frozen pipes are a huge part of the plumbing business in the winter, and the tragedy is that it’s a totally preventable disaster.  Pipe freeze is due to a number of factors.  First of all, the temperature.  Pipes are not going to freeze unless the temperature is well below freezing.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about this (besides moving to a more temperate climate!)  The very nature of water is working against you here.  Water is the only liquid that when it freezes, its solid state takes up more space (and is less dense) than the liquid.  This means that if water fills a pipe completely (which, if you have good plumbing, it should), it takes up slightly more than the pipe if it becomes ice.  Anywhere along the pipe that this happens will lead to a split or burst pipe.

Any licensed plumber will tell you that insulation is the first line of defense against frozen pipes.  Insulation comes as fiberglass or foam rubber sleeves than trap and retain warmth.  In cases where freezing poses a severe threat, a good plumber will recommend heating stripes, which artificially introduce heat to the pipes.  Both methods together are sure to keep your pipes flowing throughout the year.

You should also train yourself to spot the warning signs that your pipes may be partially frozen, or on their way to freezing completely.  Once the process starts, it’s usually a short amount of time before you have a frozen pipe on your hands, quickly followed by a burst pipe, which then turns into a flood.

A drop in water pressure is usually the first warning sign.  If the flow from one of your pipes (hot or cold) slows down, call your plumber immediately, before you have a plumbing emergency.  Your plumber will probably tell you to shut off the water until he arrives, which will help prevent a burst, even if the pipe does freeze.  Whatever you do, do not attempt to apply direct heat yourself.  Intense heat applied directly to the frozen section can turn the ice directly to steam, which can explode in your pipes.

If you’re stuck by yourself, and need to thaw the pipe without a licensed plumber, try using a blow dryer or a space heater to slowly reheat the pipe.   Patience is the key here, you want to defrost those pipes slowly, evenly, and carefully.  And next time, remember to insulate your pipes!  Preventing frozen pipes is the best way to defrost them.