Breakdown: Why pipes can burst when it’s cold

Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 1:18 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -The main reason that pipes burst during the winter is that the water coming into your house from the outside is much colder than it was during the summer months. The cold water causes your pipes to contract and in weaker parts, can cause the pipe to burst. This happens because the pipe becomes unable to withhold the water pressures inside it.

Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit but thankfully your pipes are protected from freezing temperatures due to the insulation in your home. This means that just because it is right at the freezing mark outside, that doesn’t mean your pipes are frozen or will freeze. Normally, your home’s pipes begin to freeze when the outside temperature is at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit but this depends on your geographical location. For example, areas that expect lower temperatures have water pipes that are better insulated in inner parts of your home, compared to other areas. In general in order for your home’s water pipes to freeze, the outside temperature needs to be below 20 degrees, for a total of at least six consecutive hours. How long it will take for your pipes to freeze and burst also depends on your home’s insulation, and how deep inside your home your water pipes are located. if you live in a geographical location that usually does not suffer from cold winters, chances are that your water pipes do not have that much insulation to protect them from extreme temperatures. In such cases, the time that it may take for your pipes to freeze and burst may in fact be lower.

There are signs that can help you identify, that your pipe maybe frozen. One of the earliest signs is when no water is coming out of your faucet when you turn it on. Plumbers suggest that when you notice that, check to make sure that the water is still running and that there is no leak in the basement. Then check to make sure none of your pipes have burst by continuing your inspection. There are several things you can do if your pipes are frozen but have not ruptured:

  • Hire a plumber to thaw your pipes. Typically, this is a better option if you don’t think you can safely thaw the pipes yourself, you don’t know where the frozen pipes are, or you can’t reach the frozen area.

Here is some precautions you can take to help prevent your pipes from bursting.

1. Keep Water Faucets Running

Especially when temperatures are very cold, always keep one or two faucets running slowly. Water moving through the system should prevent the line from freezing.

2. Direct Warm Air To Cold Areas Of Your Home

Often, the pipes that freeze are located near an outside wall or a window, so be sure to direct warm air to any colder areas of your home. (Start in your basement and look for any pipes near the exterior of the home).

3. Leave Your Cabinet Doors Open

If your kitchen sink is on an outside wall (as it usually is), be sure to leave cabinet doors open to allow warm air into the cabinet.

4. Disconnect Your Hose From The Outside Faucet

Be sure to disconnect your hose from the outside faucet. If you leave your hose connected, water is not able to drain out of your hose bib and can freeze and break the device.

5. Install Heat Tape

There is a product called heat tape that can be installed and will warm pipes as needed during cold weather. You may want to consult with a plumber to learn the best practices.

6. Seal Leaks That Allow Cold Air Into Your Home

Seal leaks that allow cold air into your home where pipes are located. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents, and pipes. Use caulk or insulation to keep the cold out. When temperatures are very cold, even a small opening can let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze.

7. Check Your Home’s Temperature

Prevent temperatures from dropping below 32 degrees in any area of your home where water lines are located.

8. Call An Expert Plumber

An expert licensed plumber will be able to locate potential pipe bursts and prevent them from happening.

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