Water is strange. It shares a rare chemical property with only a few other substances in the universe: it expands when it freezes.
While that information may be an interesting factoid for chemistry students, it’s an all-too-common problem for homeowners. When the water in a home’s plumbing system freezes, it expands. When it can’t expand along the length of the pipe because of closed valves or other blockages, it has no choice but to expand across the pipe’s diameter. When that happens, the pipe can sustain damage in the form of a crack, split, or even a complete rupture.
When the ice eventually melts, water runs freely from the broken pipe, leading to leaks, floods, and water damage.
To avoid having winter weather lead to a significant repair bill, follow these steps to prevent frozen pipes in your home.
Prevent Frozen Pipes by Disconnecting Your Garden Hoses
Ice has to start somewhere. Water at its freezing point can be liquid or solid. Once water reaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius, it hangs out at that temperature for a long time while it undergoes the shift from liquid water to ice. Speeding up that process is simple: add ice. Once ice has started to form in a certain volume of water, more ice will form quickly.
That’s another one of those helpful science factoids that, in this case, illustrates the importance of disconnecting your garden hoses once the forecast calls for freezing temps. Being out in the uninsulated outdoors, the water in your garden hose will freeze much faster than in the pipes within your home’s foundation. Once that ice is in the water supply, it will quickly lead to additional ice formation inside the interior plumbing, leading to frozen pipes.
Prevent Frozen Pipes With Insulation
Make sure your basement or foundation is well sealed. If your home has a crawlspace, keep your crawlspace vents tightly closed before cold weather hits to ensure that your plumbing isn’t subjected to a long soak in frigid air.
Thoroughly examine your home’s foundation or basement walls for any gaps where pipes, wires, or ducts pass through the foundation wall, cracks, or any other openings that could admit cold air. Seal these gaps with expanding foam or a high-quality exterior grade caulk or sealant.
You should also take steps to insulate your house’s plumbing. Foam insulation wrap for pipes is readily available at hardware and home improvement stores and is reasonably easy to install. The insulation is usually sold in straight lengths or rolls and features a slit down one side to allow it to be slipped over a length of pipe.
Some pipe insulation is self-sealing and features an adhesive strip to affix the insulation to the pipe. Other types must be secured with cable ties or insulating tape. Regardless of the style you choose, it simply has to be cut to length, slipped over the pipe, and secured in place.
If you take the time during warmer months to insulate your pipes, you’ll reduce the risks of a frozen pipe without crawling under your house when it’s cold out.
Prevent Frozen Pipes by Allowing Constant Flow
Moving water is considerably harder to freeze than still water. Taking the simple precaution of leaving your faucets dripping, just a little bit, during a hard freeze is a great way to help avoid a frozen pipe.
Prevent Frozen Pipes by Providing Heat
Inside your home, the most likely spot for a frozen pipe is under a kitchen cabinet or vanity, where the enclosing cabinet prevents the warm air inside your home from reaching the cut-off valve and flex lines that carry water from the wall to the faucet. By leaving cabinet doors open at least a crack, you can keep warm air circulating around these plumbing components and help prevent them from freezing.
If a frigid spell is forecast, consider keeping the pipes under your home warm as well. A heat wrap or an electric heater turned to a low setting in your crawlspace or basement can provide enough heat to keep pipes warm and avoid a costly freeze. Note: never use an open flame heat source to warm your pipes, as they can cause a significant fire hazard.
Pay Special Attention to Your Hot-Water Plumbing
We mentioned at the beginning of this article that water is weird. Another way that water is strange is that, for some reason, hot water sometimes freezes faster than cold water. Scientists have been arguing about this phenomenon, called the Mpemba effect, since the days of Aristotle. But whatever the reason, it holds: in many homes flooded due to burst pipes, the home’s hot-water lines froze before the cold-water lines.
As you’re installing installation and taking other precautions to prevent frozen pipes, make sure not to ignore your hot-water plumbing. Science can’t yet tell you why, but those pipes may be more likely to freeze and burst.
If Winter Weather Has Caused Water Damage in Your Home, Contact AfterCare Restoration Right Away to Begin Mitigation and Restoration: 215.515.1000
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