‘Tis the season for frozen pipes

Its frozen pipe season in Park City, UT. Photo: Emily Witham

PARK CITY, Utah – Frozen pipes can be an issue that can cause costly damage throughout the season. The government agency that oversees the counties of Utah has the following helpful tips and tricks.

Water expands when it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on everything it contains, including metal or plastic pipes. Pipes can freeze if temperatures drop rapidly or remain below freezing (32 ° Fahrenheit / 0 ° Celsius) for long periods of time. Once a pipe has frozen and expanded, the pipe can break and cause flooding.

Regardless of the strength of a container, expanding water can cause pipe bursts, which pose a significant risk of water damage in the winter months. When water gets in, it creeps into every crevice and crack, causing thousands of dollars in damage to cleaning and repairing, and even opening the door for mold and mildew to grow.

Pipes that freeze most often are exposed to extreme cold, such as Water supply lines in unheated interiors such as basements and crawl spaces, attics or garages; and pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation.

Frozen pipes – and the problems they cause – can be prevented by following a few basic steps:

  1. Be prepared for a potential disaster by determining where your plumbing pipes go and locating water stop valves. Always ensure that you have easy access to the main water shut-off valve in an emergency.
  2. All outdoor water pipes (e.g. sprinkler systems) should be completely emptied in autumn so that there is no moisture inside, which can expand when the temperature is below zero. Remove and drain the hoses and close the valves to the outdoor hose lanterns.
  3. Water pipes found in unheated exterior walls, basements, crawl spaces, or garages should be well insulated with socket-style pipe insulation to maintain temperatures above 32 degrees Fahrenheit and prevent freezing. It also helps ensure that all rooms are adequately insulated and that gaps in leaky windows and doors are closed to avoid stormy drafts.
  4. If not throughout the winter season, consider opening a few taps in the coldest areas, where the pipes would most likely freeze just enough to let a trickle of water out. By keeping the faucets open, the flowing water will help prevent the pipes from freezing.
  5. The main thing is that your pipes stay warm enough all winter – that is, keep cold air out or bring warm air into your cold pipes. Pipelines that run on an outside wall through an undercounter cabinet in the kitchen, for example, will get colder if you keep the cabinet doors closed. Leave them ajar, however, and they will be heated with the rest of the room while your HVAC system is on.

When pipes freeze, you can minimize water damage:

  1. Find the frozen pipe by opening each faucet to see which, if any, is producing a trickle of water – this is a sign of a frozen pipe somewhere between the faucet and the water source. Start at the pipe closest to the faucet, follow the line away from it, feeling every few feet to find the coldest pipes likely to hold the icy clog. And remember, if one pipe is frozen, others can be vulnerable too. Check all taps to be sure.
  2. Cut off the water supply at the location of the frozen pipes (or, if simpler, the entire building). When the frozen blockage finally thaws, it can drain extra fluid behind it and cause a surprising leak. So grab a bucket, towels, and maybe a mop to prepare for any ice cold water that spurts out.
  3. Drain all of the water remaining in the building by opening every faucet on every sink, shower and tub and flushing each toilet once.
  4. Use an electric heating pad, hair dryer, or portable heater to heat the frozen pipe sections until full water pressure is restored. Warm the edge of the area closest to the nearest outlet in the plumbing – such as in the kitchen or bathroom – so steam or water can easily escape. Space heating could also help to concentrate the heat where it is needed. Never use a blowtorch, propane heater, or other open flame.
  5. If you turn the water back on throughout the property using the main water supply valve, watch out for leaks – if you discover one, you need to turn off the water again and schedule repairs as soon as possible. Close the valves and taps that were opened from step 1. However, if your frozen pipes appear completely thawed, focus your energies again on the preventive measures that you can take into your own hands in order to avoid such a bad situation in the future.

If you have frozen or broken pipes, take photos of the damage which is easy and helpful when processing an insurance claim. Counties have the authority to immediately call a remediation company (e.g., Utah Disaster Kleanup) to mitigate their damage.

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