Under Pressure: Frozen Pipes

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When water freezes it expands. If it expands too much, pipes can burst, water can escape, and you could be facing serious damage in your home. Winter in the Midwest often means days or weeks on end of single digit temperatures, meaning we’re at a high risk for winter damage like frozen pipes.

Here are some safety measures you can take during extreme cold weather, and what to do (or not do) if you suspect your pipes are already frozen:

 

Preventing Frozen Pipes In Your Home

  • Leave your doors and cabinets open. Obviously, this is only meant for interior doors! Keeping all your doors open in your home will ensure that warm air is evenly circulating and no area in the home is at risk. By leaving your cabinets open under sinks, the warm air will circulate around your pipes to help prevent them from freezing.
  • If you’re going out of town, or even if you’ll be away from your home for a long day or so during a Polar Vortex, you may consider draining your water system. With no water in your pipes, there can be no ice. No ice in the pipes = no bursting. You’ll need to shut off the main valve and turn on every water fixture until the water stops running. When you get back, turn on the main valve and let all the faucets run until your pipes are full again.
  • Don’t lower your heat too much (or better yet, not at all). It can be tempting to keep your utility and electric bills down, especially if you’re going out of town. But if your home is too cold, the pipes are at a higher risk of freezing and bursting. Plus, if it is too cold when you return, your furnace will need to work in overdrive to reset the house to its usual comfortable temp.
  • Make sure registers aren’t covered. As you layout furniture and rugs in your rooms, it’s important to consider more than just what is feng shui. Be sure that you aren’t covering any vent registers so that all the warm air is pushed through your home.

 

What to do if your pipes are already frozen – or worse, frozen AND have bursted

It’s the dead of winter. If you turn on a faucet, and nothing comes out, don’t risk it.

  • If your pipes have already burst, shut off the main water valve to avoid as much damage as possible.
  • Keep your faucets open. This will allow any melting water to escape.
  • Start at an open faucet and work towards the blockage.
  • Thaw the frozen pipe.
    • A blow dryer can work great. Just make sure to keep a safe distance around open water.
    • Using a space heater can work great because the indirect, surrounding heat can effectively melt a larger area of ice, but take proper precautions. Don’t leave a space heater unattended. Keep the heater away from water.
    • Do NOT heat a pipe with an electric blanket or heating pad. Water plus electricity means major risks of electrocution.
    • Do NOT heat the pipe or area with open flame (blowtorch, propane heater, etc). This is not only a fire hazard, but an increased risk of toxic fumes in your home, like carbon monoxide.
  • Keep your home well-heated. This should be a given, but make sure your home is warm enough to speed up ice melting.
  • Call a plumber. If you’re unsure where to start, if you’ve already experienced some damage, or if you’re not sure where the frozen pipe is, a professional can help make sure your home – and everyone inside – is safe.