How to Prevent Burst Pipes
As winter temperatures continue to drop, water systems in homes and businesses are at risk of frozen and burst pipes. One of the common plumbing problems during frigid weather, pipes burst when the water inside them freezes and expands. This causes property damage and will interrupt your water supply until the damage is repaired.
Learn more about what causes burst pipes and some preventive measures you can take to avoid the problem this winter.
What causes pipes to burst in winter?
Pipes burst when the water inside gets too cold and solidifies. Since water expands when it freezes (by roughly 10%), the ice will try to grow in all directions. If it cannot expand the ends, it will exert pressure on the pipe walls, ultimately cracking or bursting them.
The rate of freezing depends on the temperatures to which the pipes are exposed. During extremely frigid weather, pipes might freeze in only a few minutes. Lines used in home water systems are more likely to freeze if they are low to the ground and have restricted airflow.
Contributing factors to burst pipes:
- Ice blockage – A small section of the pipe freezes and causes an ice blockage, stopping the water from flowing.
- Continued freezing temperatures – A continuous drop in temperature during winter causes the blockage to expand in length along the pipe. As the blockage grows, the odds of it bursting the line also increases.
- Back pressure between the blockage and a closed faucet – When both ends of the line are sealed, water can get trapped inside the pipe. This trapped water then freezes, increasing pressure in that section. When the pressure gets too high, the pipe bursts open.
- Location of the blockage – The chances of the pipe bursting is little if the frozen section is small and in a long, straight section of pipe. However, ice that is formed inside a bend, corner, or u-trap is less likely to expand away from the freezing zone and more likely to break.
Note: Even after the pipe has burst, water leakage will not occur until it thaws and the water begins to flow.
What are the telltale signs of a frozen pipe?
Here are signs that will help you determine if you have frozen pipes in your property:
- Temperature – Pipes cannot freeze if the temperature is not sufficiently cold. The threshold is 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7°C) if you have uninsulated pipes and an uninsulated home. Once the outside temperature drops to the freezing point, start taking precautionary steps to protect your pipes.
- The pipe is covered in frost – Inspect pipes that can be seen (like the one beneath your sink) for traces of frost on their exterior. This can be one of the warning signs that the pipe at risk of is freezing. If you see frost, avoid turning on your faucet.
- Water is not coming out of the faucet – Another telltale sign of a frozen pipe is the absence of running water. If you turn on a bathroom or kitchen faucet and you observe only a trickle (or nothing at all comes out), the pipe leading to that faucet may be frozen.
- Unusual smell – A strange smell coming out from a faucet or drain is also a possible sign of a frozen pipe.
How do I prevent frozen pipes?
Once the temperature outside starts to fall, take immediate action to keep your pipes warm and protected. Here are some preventive steps you can take:
- Keep your kitchen and cabinet doors open to let in more heated air. Allow it to circulate around your plumbing.
- If you have exposed pipes, let water drip from the faucet. Running water coming through that pipe, no matter how little it may be, helps prevent the pipes from freezing. If the dripping stops, it can mean that an ice blockage is present. Keep the faucet open to relieve pressure.
- If you’re planning to be away during winter, leave the heat on in your home and set it to a temperature no lower than 13°C. This should provide sufficient heat to keep the pipes warm and to prevent any water from freezing.
- Upgrade the insulation in attics, crawl spaces, and basements. Insulation helps maintain consistent temperatures and prevents heat loss. Keep out drafts by sealing gaps and cracks around your doors, windows, vents, and sill plates. This will also benefit your home’s thermal efficiency for the long term.
- Wrap your exterior pipes in 2-inch fibreglass insulation sleeves. For an added level of protection, waterproof areas that are prone to flooding, like your basement.
- Shut off pipes that lead outside (for garden hoses, underground sprinklers and so on). If exterior faucets do not have a shut-off valve inside your house, contact a plumber to install one.
What can I do to thaw frozen pipes?
To thaw out frozen pipes process, you will need:
- Heavy towels
- Hot or boiling water
- Hairdryer, heat lamp, or space heater
Start working on the section nearest a faucet and work your way down to the ice blockage. This ensures that water and steam can escape out of the open tap. Starting too close to the obstruction might cause trap melting ice between bits of the blockage. This could create pressure in the pipe leading to burst.
Follow these steps to get your water flowing again:
- Shut off the water to that section of pipe, if possible.
- Use the hairdryer to direct warm air toward the pipe, working from close to the open faucet towards the blockage.
- Position the heat lamp or space heater to face the frozen section.
- Soak the heavy towel in hot water and wrap it around the pipe. As you go along, re-soak it as it cools. If it gets too cold, it may freeze to the lines.
- If the pipe begins leaking, stop immediately. Turn off the power in the area if the leak is close to electrical fittings or cables. Unplug and remove the heat lamp or space heater. If you didn’t turn off the water before you started, do so now.
What do I do if a pipe bursts?
Keep calm and don’t panic. Make sure that you’ve shut off the main water line into your property to prevent flooding. The shut-off valve for the water main is usually near the water meter. After turning off the water supply, call your local plumber.
For plumbing emergencies in King City and New Tecumseth, call Plumbing Authority at (647) 992-7473. We’re here to help you 24 hours a day, seven days a week