Frozen water pipes in your home can be a major risk in winter. Not only does the damage affect your plumbing, but it can also lead to water damage to the structure of your home.
Why Pipes Freeze
Only certain pipes in the home, usually water supply lines, are typically prone to freezing. Those most at risk are any that are outside the home. These include outdoor faucets and hose bibs, both those on free-standing posts and those attached to the home or garage. Water lines that run through outbuildings, particularly unheated outbuildings, are also at risk. Inside the home, the main pipes at risk are those that run through walls with an exterior wall or those that run through areas of the home that aren't heated, such as an enclosed porch or attached garage. In rare cases, pipes below the floor boards in homes with an unheated crawlspace may also freeze.
Freezing occurs because plumbing pipes are rarely completely void of water. When temperatures drop below freezing, any water in the pipe or faucet tap can freeze. Those pipes that run through the exposed areas listed above are most at risk.
Types of Damage
Damage from a frozen pipe can be minor or severe. The damage occurs when the water in the pipe freezes, which causes it to expand. In the most minor cases no permanent damage is done; the water line is just blocked until it thaws.
More often, though, frozen pipes lead to burst pipes. As the water expands, it can cause cracks to develop in the pipe itself. Another common issue is that the expanding ice forces the pipes apart at a joint, which is the weakest spot on most supply lines. Water valves, taps, and faucet assemblies are all at risk of developing damage from a freeze as well. Although these types of damage are most common in supply lines, they can occur in some drain lines if the drains are sluggish and prone to retaining water.
Prevention and Repair
Prevention is the preferred option. When possible, you should shut down the water supply to any outside lines or lines to unheated outbuildings before winter freezes occur. If there is no water in the line, it can't freeze. You should also protect exposed faucets and hose bibs with insulated covers. Indoors, maintain a temperature over 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the home. If indoor pipes are in danger of freezing, turn the faucet so the water is dribbling out. Moving water is less likely to freeze.
If your pipes do freeze, contact a plumber immediately. They can help you slowly thaw the pipes out to minimize the chances of damage. For pipes that have already burst, shut off the water at the main and bring in a plumber to repair or replace the damaged pipe.
Contact a plumbing service if you have concerns about your pipes during periods of cold weather.