Frozen water pipes are a real concern for homeowners living in many regions, not just the Snow Belt. When uninsulated water-supply pipes are exposed to frigid air, the water inside can freeze, expand, and rip open the pipe. The resulting water damage can be extensive, depending on the pipe’s location and how long the problem goes unnoticed.
And busted water pipes are a much bigger problem than you might imagine. According to State Farm Insurance, more than 250,000 homes are damaged annually by frozen or burst water pipes, ranking second only to hurricanes in terms of damage and repair costs. However, unlike hurricanes, frozen water pipes can be prevented. Here are some simple precautions to follow:
- In extremely frigid weather, consider opening sink faucets just enough to allow the water to drip out; that will relieve pressure and help prevent the pipes from freezing.
If a pipe does freeze, follow these suggestions:
- Never try to thaw a frozen pipe with a propane torch or other open flame. You might damage the pipe, or worse, start a fire. Instead, use a blow dryer or electric heat gun to slowly melt the blockage.
It’s interesting to note that the Building Research Council at the University of Illinois conducted field tests of residential water systems subjected to winter temperatures. It found that the onset of pipe freezing—known as the Temperature Alert Threshold (TAT)—began when the outside temperature fell to 20° F. This finding was later supported by a survey of 71 plumbers practicing in southern states.
However, a pipe can freeze at temperatures warmer than 20°, especially if it’s being continuously buffeted by frigid air, so use this TAT as a general guideline.