Why Do Pipes Freeze?
Water expands when it freezes. Not being a science geek, this surprised me because in 7th grade science I learned that heat expands and cold contracts! It turns out, not always. What happens when there is water in pipes is that the water freezes and therefore expands. It can only expand lengthwise since the pipes freeze and hold water in. This creates pressure between the blockage and the faucet which, finally, causes the pipes to break and spew water.
Homes in our area are more susceptible than houses further north. Since our outdoor temperatures rarely reach the critical point of 20 degrees Fahrenheit, pipes here are not always protected from the cold and are therefore vulnerable.
Ways to Keep Your Pipes Safe
Pipes that are protected throughout their length within an insulated building, or are insulated themselves or are heated should be safe. Ones that are vulnerable (in attics, crawl spaces, near outside walls, in garages and basements) can be protected with insulation sleeves which you will find at hardware stores or plumbing supply houses.
The more insulation, the better. Seal any cracks or holes in outside walls and foundations where water comes into the house. Open kitchen and bathroom cabinets to allow warmth from the house to warm the plumbing. Let each faucet drip. Moving water won’t freeze. This might raise your water bill a bit, but is much less expensive than burst plumbing pipes. Letting the faucet drip relieves the pressure that could otherwise build up if there is an ice blockage. If the dripping stops. call the plumber and turn off the main water valve. Leave that faucet open to relieve any possible pressure. If you open a faucet and nothing comes out, call a plumber.
Do not use any fire sources like a blow torch to warm the pipes as this could cause fire damage as well.
I wish you all a warm and cozy winter. It looks like our present cold snap is going to continue for another week or so due to a polar vortex. Hope for a quick Spring!
Editor’s Note: We originally published this article in January 2014. We have edited it for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.