Prevent Frozen Pipes and Burst Pipes

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Frozen pipes and burst pipes are one of the most common household disasters. Thousands occur each year as the cold season descends upon homeowners across America. Inside today’s tip sheet, we are going to discuss some tips to prevent flooding in the home, flooded basements, and what to do in the event that a burst or frozen pipe should occur.

What Causes a Burst Pipe?

There are several reasons why pipes burst. The most common of which is below freezing temperature. As the air gets colder, water resting in pipes can become exposed to rapidly cooling air, causing the liquid to form into ice. During this “freezing” process, the water expands. Unfortunately, not all of the water in your pipes freezes at the same rate, and as new water rushes into the pipes, the combined pressure of frozen water and incoming water builds up, leading to burst pipes.

The aftermath of the above scenario can range anywhere from a leak to a full on flood.

Another cause of burst pipes is water pressure. As material collects in your fixtures and piping, it leads to clogs or plugs. These blockages, in turn, can cause pressure to grow, leading to an eventual – often sudden – burst pipe. A typical example of this type of plumbing problem comes in the form of a homeowner that pours grease and fatty foods down their kitchen drains. Over time the organic material builds up and hardens, resulting in a block. If the home owners is lucky, they will have a clog on their hands and will need to get the drain unclogged. More often than not, however, the end result will be a burst pipe and flooding in the walls or floors of their home.

Trees, too, can lead to burst pipes and flooding in the home. Many homeowners with flooded basements discover the culprit behind their woes is a much beloved tree that has been growing in their yard for as long as they can remember. What they never knew, however, was that the tree’s insidious roots were hard at work, seeking out a source of water and finding one in the sewage pipes connected to their house.

Once a root system finds its way inside a home’s plumbing, it begins sending out runners to soak up any liquid they can find, causing cracks, clogs, and, eventually flooding.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

Prior to the winter season or any cold snaps, there are several steps you can take to help prevent frozen pipes.

Winterizing Hose Bibs

For starters, remove any outdoor water hoses and store them in your garage or storage shed. Make sure all indoor valves that supply outdoor hose bibs are closed, then drain the hose bibs outside of your home by opening them and letting any remaining water out. Do not close the outdoor bibs after they have finished draining Instead, leave them open.

Securing Water Supply Lines

There are many areas in and around the home that require – or make use of – a water supply. Sprinklers, swimming pools, hot tubs, and washing machines should all have their water supply lines drained. Any supply lines within the home that are in unheated locations should be insulated when possible to help reduce the risk of freezing.

Other Tips to Stop Freezing Pipes

Some other tricks you can use to prevent frozen pipes include opening any cabinet doors where there are plumbing fixtures or plumbing pipes (for instance, the kitchen or bathrooms). This lets warm air have access to your pipes and will help keep the temperature higher. If there is no heat in this area or electrical equipment, and your pipes are not insulated, you can consider bundling newspaper around the pipes in a pinch. However, do not do this in areas where there is a hot water heater or any heated areas, as it could be a fire hazard.

Another quick tip is slightly turning on sinks and letting water trickle out of faucets. This slow trickle of water will help slow the freezing process and could save your pipes from breaking. Note: you do not need a large amount of water for this to work. The slowest trickle you can manage should be fine.

How To Unfreeze Pipes

Even under the best circumstances and despite any preventative measures you may take, sometimes pipes will freeze. If the weather outside your home is chilly and you turn on a faucet and only a small amount of water comes out, you may have a frozen pipe.

Your first option in this case would be to call in the professionals. Odds are, however, that plumbers in your area may be busy handling other, similar, situations, and you may have to wait a while for service.

If this occurs, you can opt to take measures into your own hands. For starters, locate any areas in the home where you suspect there is a frozen pipe – chances are, you will have multiple frozen pipes. Choose one location and open the faucet, let water trickle out. At the same time, locate the supplying pipe and apply a small amount of heat to it. Heating pads and hair dryers are good options. If you have access to hot towels, you can wrap them around the pipes to help the process along too.

Stay away from high heat devices or those that require an open flame, such as blowtorches or gas operated (propane, kerosene, etc) heaters. In addition, be sure to remove any hazardous and flammable chemicals or materials from the area as well.

Once full water pressure is returned to the area, move on to the next frozen pipe, if applicable, and repeat the process.

What to Do: Pipe Burst and Basement Floods

In the event that a pipe bursts or a flood occurs in your home or basement, be prepared to act quickly. Your first step should be to shut off the main water valve in your home. This will stop the flow of water and help prevent the flood (and resulting water damage) from getting worse. If you do not know where your main water valve is, be sure to locate it after you finish reading this article – the last thing you want is to have to rush around trying to find it while an actual pipe has burst!

Next, go to your electrical panel and shut off electricity to the affected area. This is crucial, as it can help to prevent a fire (and resulting fire damage) from breaking out. Again, make sure you are well-versed in how your electrical panel works and clearly label what area of the home each switch controls.

Once the water and electricity is shut off, you will want to call in the professionals. For starters, call your plumber. Hopefully you will already have a relationship with a licensed plumbing service prior to any issues. Having a well-vetted contractor can help save you money and ensure the problem is fixed right the first time.

In most instances, flooding will result in mild to significant water damage. This includes, but is not limited to, damaged documents, mold and mildew, damage to carpets and upholstery, the need for water extraction, and, in some instances, fire and smoke damage. Because this type of damage can be difficult to repair or remediate, you will want to call in a professional disaster restoration team to assess the situation and come up with a water damage remediation plan. The team at ServiceMaster is a great place to start!

Finally, your insurance agent will need to be notified of the event and will require documentation, including reports from the plumber, pictures of the damage, and so forth. If you hire a disaster recovery service like ServiceMaster, they will be able to help you document for – and work with – your insurance company to make sure your insurance claim is handled properly.

Resources for Frozen Pipes and Flooded Basements

Below are some additional resources for homeowners experiencing frozen pipes, burst pipes, home flooding, or basement floods in Georgia and Tennesse

Education and Tips

Redcross Advice for Frozen Pipes

University of Georgia discussion on burst pipes tips for preventing pipe freezing

Plumbing Services from the Better Business Bureau

Note: For other areas, simply change your location and click the “Search” button

BBB List of Plumbers in Metro Atlanta, Athens, and NE Georgia
BBB List of Plumbers for Tennessee

Water Damage and Disaster Water Recovery Services

Servicemaster Cleaning and Restoration

Cartersville, GA 770-882-2723
Chattanooga, TN 423-954-7154
Ormond Beach, FL 386-277-1189

Pipe Freezing Resources from Insurance Companies

Allstate article on Pipe Freezes
Liberty Mutual tools for preventing frozen pipes
Nationwide Pipe Freeze Tips
Farmers how to prevent frozen pipe toolkit

Miscellaneous Water Damage and Home Flood Resources

List of Fire Departments by State