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Frozen Pipes - What to Do?

Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Well, when it comes to your water pipes, this ain’t exactly the case, at least not during the winter.

When the temperatures drop, many households throughout the country may experience their water pipes freezing and, even worse, bursting.

Burst pipes can leak a lot of water quickly, leading to soaked-up insulation, drywall, and plywood, depending on how strong the leak is. Some leaks can even cause cracks in walls if given enough time.

All of these materials are quite expensive to repair or replace, emphasizing the damage frozen pipes can cause if they burst. 

This is what today’s post will you prevent. We’re discussing it all today – why pipes freeze, how to thaw frozen pipes, how to repair burst pipes, and how to prevent this from happening again, among other things. 

So, let’s get started!

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Why Do Pipes Freeze?

It’s a simple temperature equation. Once the water reaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it slowly starts to freeze.

This can happen anywhere, even in the warmer states in the south. So if you’re in a state like Florida or California and think you’ve got an upper hand, you’re unfortunately still not completely in the clear.

For instance, in 2021, California has incurred over $15 billion in losses from homeowners insurance claims. Florida? Over $8 billion.

Since around a quarter of all homeowners insurance claims nationwide are because of water damage and freezing (according to the same study), and because these claims tend to soar in the winter, we can confidently assume that a chunk of these claims are related to burst frozen pipes and other winter-related damage.

The point we’re trying to make here is that you inspect your pipes regularly to spot problems in time. However, if you’ve already got a frozen pipe, it’s time to thaw it.

How to Know if Your Pipes Have Frozen?

If cold weather has come and you notice that little or even no water comes out of a given faucet, this is a warning sign. Ice in the pipes can block the water from flowing through.

You may even notice some foul smells, as the ice in the pipe can also block the smell from moving through.

In this instance, make sure to check multiple faucets throughout your house to ensure that it’s just one pipe affected or the entire plumbing system.

If you can see your pipes, visible frost is a dead giveaway. In case you notice cracks on the pipe and ice coming out, it means that the damage has already been done and that you have to act fast to mitigate it.

How to Locate My Pipes to Inspect Them?

Finding your pipes shouldn’t be an issue. It may very well be the part of the pipe exposed to the coldest temperatures, often along exterior walls, in basements, or in crawl spaces. Here are some steps to take:

  • The best way would be to use your home’s blueprints. If you have access to the original blueprints or house plans for your property, they often include information about the plumbing layout.
  • Check for inspection ports or access panels in your home, such as in the basement, crawl spaces, or utility rooms. These panels may provide access to pipes, and sometimes the pipes are labeled.
  • Look around the water heaters, boilers, and other appliances.
  • Consider using pipe-tracing tools or detectors. They can help locate pipes by detecting the metal or other materials used in the pipes. These devices can be rented or purchased.
  • Call a previous owner of the property or a plumber.

Once you locate the pipe, look for ice and frost. And then, in case your pipe has indeed frozen, take the following steps.

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes?

Thawing a frozen pipe should be done with extra caution, as there might already be a lot of water that’s built up in the pipe. The pipe may easily leak that water, so be careful.

Anyway, here’s what you should do to:

  1. Keep Faucets Open:
    • Open the faucet connected to the frozen pipe. This allows water to flow once the ice thaws, relieving the pressure we’ve mentioned that can happen in the pipe.
  2. Apply Heat:
    • Some effective methods include the following:
      • Hair Dryer: Direct the warm air at the frozen section, moving the dryer along the pipe. Start from the faucet end and work your way toward the ice.
      • Heat Lamp or Space Heater: Position a heat lamp or space heater near the frozen pipe. Ensure it’s a safe distance away, and don’t leave it unattended.
      • Hot Towels or Rags: Soak towels or rags in hot water and wrap them around the frozen pipe. Repeat until the ice melts.
  3. Electrical Heating Tape:
    • If you have electrical heating tape, you can wrap it around the frozen pipe and plug it in.
  4. Use a Portable Heater:
    • In larger spaces, like basements, use a portable heater to raise the temperature and thaw the pipes. Keep the area well-ventilated.
  5. Avoid Open Flames:
    • Do not use open flames or a propane torch to thaw pipes, as this can be dangerous and lead to a fire.

Once the pipe is thawed and water is flowing through, check for any leaks. If you find a burst pipe, turn off the water supply right away and call a plumber.

And there you go! For most of you, this will be enough to help prevent more serious damage.

But then there are some people who have already had their pipes bursting and a lot of water leaking out of them.

How to Repair Burst Frozen Pipe Water Damage?

As we’ve mentioned before, the leaking water can easily damage the expensive home materials around it, like your drywall and flooring.

In case you’re struggling with burst pipe-related damage, here’s what to do.

How to Stop the Leak?

If there’s still water leaking, turn off the water supply. Then, seal off the leaking part of the pipe. 

Make sure to clean the pipe and to dry out the area around the leaking part of the pipe before applying the sealant, which can be an epoxy putty, a pipe repair cast, or tape. These will harden once applied and form a water-resistant sealant.

You can also use a clamp. These come in various sizes suitable for different pipes, so make sure you pick the right size. 

Open the hinge, and then place the open clamp over the damaged section of the pipe, ensuring that the rubber gasket or sealing material on the inside of the clamp is positioned directly over the leak. Then close the hinge.

Use a screwdriver or wrench to tighten the screws on the clamp. Start with the screws that are closest to the leak and work your way outward. Tighten them evenly.

If you’re not going to use a clamp but rather some of the products we’ve mentioned before, like an epoxy putty, make sure you pick the correct one for your type of pipe.

Different Types of Pipes

Unsure about which type of pipe you have? These are the types of pipes found in homes and where they are mostly used:

  1. Copper Pipes:
    • Copper pipes come in two main types – rigid and flexible (soft or annealed).
    • Used in water supply lines, both hot and cold water.
  2. PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) Pipes:
    • Rigid PVC (uPVC) for drainage and waste pipes, flexible PVC for water supply lines.
    • Also used in vent systems
  3. PEX (Cross-linked Polyethylene) Pipes:
    • Flexible plastic tubing.
    • Used in water supply lines.
  4. Galvanized Steel Pipes:
    • Steel pipes coated with zinc to prevent rust.
    • Used in water supply lines.
  5. CPVC (Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride) Pipes:
    • Rigid plastic pipes.
    • Used in hot and cold water supply lines.
  6. PE (Polyethylene) Pipes:
    • Flexible plastic pipes.
    • Found in underground water supply lines and irrigation.
  7. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) Pipes:
    • Rigid plastic pipes.
    • Used for drainage and waste systems.
  8. Cast Iron Pipes:
    • Rigid pipes made of cast iron.
    • Also used for drainage and waste systems.
  9. Brass Pipes:
    • Alloy of copper and zinc.
    • Used for water supply lines.
  10. Black Iron Pipes:
    • Steel pipes coated with black oxide to prevent rust.
    • Found in gas lines.

How to Deal With Water Damage?

Now, our DIY water restoration post goes more in-depth on this, and we highly recommend you check it out.

Essentially, a lot of water damage cases involve three main steps:

  • Removing all of the standing water that has leaked out of your pipe
  • Drying out the walls and floors around the leak
  • Replacing any damaged items that can’t be dried

A lot of times, regular day-to-day homeowners may not be able to handle these tasks. It involves a lot of work and equipment, like air movers and dehumidifiers.

If you feel you’ve had a significant leak, save yourself the unnecessary stress and call a restoration company to handle the repairs for you.

But isn’t water restoration expensive?

It is. But in case of frozen pipes, you are likely not going to be the one paying for it!

Is Water Damage from Frozen Pipes Covered by Insurance?

Yes! As we’ve mentioned earlier, around a quarter of all homeowners insurance claims are related to water damage, including broken pipes.

Note that insurance companies will cover only sudden and abrupt water damage that couldn’t have been prevented. 

So, if there was a strong cold and there was no way to prevent your pipes from freezing and subsequently bursting, you’ll likely get covered.

Another important thing is that insurance companies will only pay for repair costs of water damage, not the actual pipe. 

Learn more about how water damage insurance works.

Conclusion

And there you have it. A complete guide for detecting, thawing, and repairing frozen pipes. Hopefully, you’ve gotten enough information out of it to get all of the work done.

If you need assistance with water damage from a burst pipe, make sure to use RepairSprout to find a restoration professional near you to help you dry everything out and mitigate the damage.

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