What to Do If Your Pipes Freeze

Frozen pipes are a big and potentially expensive problem for homeowners. If not addressed, they can burst and cause costly damage to your home.

According to data from the Insurance Information Institute, water damage and freezing accounted for 23.5% of homeowners insurance claims in 2021. Each year, about one in 60 insured homes has a property damage claim caused by water damage or freezing, such as a burst pipe.

Knowing what steps to take when your pipes freeze and how to prevent future problems can save you an insurance claim or thousands of dollars if you have to pay for damages yourself.

— What causes pipes to freeze?

— How to identify frozen pipes.

— What to do if your pipes freeze.

— How to prevent your pipes from freezing.

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What Causes Pipes To Freeze?

When temperatures dip below freezing, your home’s pipes are at risk of freezing and causing significant damage to your plumbing system and home.

According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of repairing a frozen burst pipe is $500 for professional repairs. If you need to install new pipes underground or fix related water damage, it can cost as much as $5,000. Most home insurance policies cover damage as a result of frozen pipes, but it depends. The American Family Insurance website says that insurance won’t cover the damage if the pipe burst because you didn’t drain the piping system or maintain heat in the building while you were away.

“Freezing temperatures can cause a lot of damage to homes that haven’t been properly winterized,” says Joseph Wade, vice president of operations at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. “When pipes are exposed to cold temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, they can freeze and ultimately burst from the water inside the pipes expanding as it freezes.”

How To Identify Frozen Pipes

For homes with a crawl space, cold floors are one of the first signs of a problem. Another obvious sign that you have a frozen pipe is if you turn on a faucet and there’s either a slow trickle or no water. If no faucets are running, the frozen pipe is probably near the main water line, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

In most cases, you’ll find frozen pipes in sections of the home that aren’t insulated or heated, says Wade. He recommends touching the pipes and feeling for extremely cold sections. This could indicate that there’s frozen water on the other side.

If a pipe is frozen, there’s a 50% chance it has a crack, NAR says. Call a professional immediately if you notice these signs:

— A bulge or crack in the pipe with ice coming out.

— Frost on the outside of the pipe.

— A bad smell from the drain or faucet.

— No water or a slow trickle when you turn the faucet on.

— Whistling or banging coming from your pipes.

— A strange bubbling noise when you flush a toilet.

— Dampness, puddles or other signs of water on drywall or ceilings.

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What To Do if Your Pipes Freeze

If your pipes freeze, take immediate action. “Serious and potentially damaging consequences can happen, including burst pipes, structural damage, loss of personal property, water damage and growth of mold and mildew,” says Matt Kunz, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a Neighborly company.

If you suspect your pipes are frozen, take the following steps.

Turn off the main water supply. The first step you should take is to turn off the main water supply to the house. Kunz says this will prevent a watery mess as you work. The location of the main shut-off valve depends on your home’s foundation, typically at the water meter or where the main line enters the house.

Turn on the faucet. For exposed pipes, Kunz says to open the faucet to relieve pressure. This will help prevent pressure from building up and causing the frozen pipe to burst.

Thaw the frozen pipe. “Frozen pipes will eventually thaw on their own, but it is advised to hire someone to help thaw them,” Kunz says. To thaw your frozen pipes, Kunz suggests starting from the faucet and slowly heating the pipe with a hair dryer, heating pad, heat lamp or space heater. “A professional plumber can help thaw pipes quickly and prevent them from bursting and causing damage to your home.”

Call a plumber. Call a plumber immediately if you can’t access the frozen section or thaw the pipe.

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How To Prevent Your Pipes From Freezing

You should take preventative measures when temperatures plunge or if you plan to leave the house unoccupied for a long period of time. Some of these steps may require you to turn up the heat or leave a faucet turned on, but the added expense is worth it to prevent expensive repairs.

Let the faucet drip. Turn on the faucets that are connected to pipes in unheated or exposed areas, such as basements, crawl spaces, unheated attics and exterior walls. “Moving water does require a lower temperature to freeze than still water, so letting a faucet drip gives you an extra measure of safety, depending on how low the temperature actually gets,” explains Roy Barnes, co-owner of Service Force Plumbing in Maryland.

Leaving the faucet open also helps release pressure from freezing water rather than letting it build up in the pipe and cause a rupture.

Open cabinets. Hendrik Vandepoll, master plumber and Barnes’ business partner, suggests opening up cabinets under kitchen and bathroom sinks or other accesses to expose at-risk pipes to the warmth produced by your home’s heating system.

Disconnect hoses. “The majority of burst pipes we are called out for are caused by homeowners leaving hoses hooked up to their spigots when the temperature drops,” Barnes says. When a hose is left full of water, it prevents the spigot from draining. Barnes notes that this is the biggest cause of a burst pipe at that location.

Vanderpoll also points out that many homeowners have “frostproof” or “freezeproof” spigots installed, giving them a false sense of security. The closing mechanism on these devices is deeply set back into the interior of the home, ensuring that the supply pipe is not exposed to direct cold. “But if a homeowner leaves their hose hooked up, it will negate that safety mechanism, and it will freeze and burst like any other spigot,” says Vanderpoll.

Insulate. Apply pipe insulation around your home’s pipes to prevent them from freezing. Kunz says proper insulation can also slow down heat loss. “Air sealing is a form of insulation that is easier to install than other forms of insulation and can help stabilize pipe temperatures,” Kunz explains. “Insulating your homes can also help keep your pipes unfrozen.”

Wade also recommends checking out your local hardware store and investing in pipe sleeves, heat tape or heat cables. “These items will be your best option for insulating pipes that run outside your house or in unheated areas like an attic or basement,” Wade says.

Keep your home warm. If you leave your home during the winter, never turn the heat off. The Mr. Rooter website recommends keeping your thermostat at 55 degrees Fahrenheit or higher if you’re out of town.

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What to Do If Your Pipes Freeze originally appeared on usnews.com

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