How and why do pipes freeze?
Pipes mostly freeze in the winter. Cold temperatures are the main cause for pipes to freeze, in order for this to happen the outside temperature needs to be below -6 degrees Celsius, as rule of thumb, for a total of at least six consecutive hours.
Even when the taps aren’t turned on, your pipes usually have a small amount of water in them. This water can freeze when the temperature goes lower.
How long it will take for your pipes to freeze also depends on the insulation of your home and how deep inside your home your water pipes are located. For instance, if you live in a place that usually does not suffer from cold winters, your water pipes probably do not have that much insulation to protect them from extreme temperatures. Therefore in such cases, the time that it may take for your pipes to freeze and burst may be lower.
Pipes most prone to freezing are:
- Those that are exposed to severe cold temperatures, such as swimming pool supply lines, and water sprinkler lines.
- Water supply pipes in interior areas that are usually unheated such as, basements, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets.
- Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation.
Why is it a problem?
No matter how strong your pipe is or what material it is made of, freezing in a pipe creates a lot of pressure inside the pipe and can cause it to burst. This can lead to countless damages such as majorly flooding your home and even the surrounding areas. Not to mention, the expenses that come with repairing it are pretty hefty too.
How to prevent it from freezing
1. Keep the Heat On
If you are leaving for a long period of time, make sure that the heat is kept on in your property, this can help prevent pipes from freezing. It might add to your utility bill, but, at least, it’ll be half of what you would have had to pay for repairs if the pipes burst. You do not have to be kept as high as you normally would keep it if you were actually present; keeping it above 10 C is best. This should provide enough heat to keep the pipes warm and to prevent any water inside from freezing. Be sure to keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night.
2. Keep Interior Doors Open
You should keep all interior doors open so that the heat can circulate freely throughout your home, and thus keep your pipes warm too. This is because Pipes are often located in cabinets. When temperatures fall, keeping the cabinet doors open (including kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors) help them get heat from the rest of the house so that they stay warm.
3. Keep Water Faucets Running
When the weather is extremely cold, you can keep one or two faucets running very slowly. Water moving through the system can prevent the line from freezing. Keeping the faucet open relieves pressure in the system. Allowing the faucet to be open will prevent pressure from building up, thus keeping the pipe from bursting. If the faucet has both hot and cold water pipes, open both faucet taps only slightly. Even if it is only coming out trickle by trickle, you would be surprised how much it helps prevent pipes from freezing.
4. Seal up Cracks and Holes
Seal gaps and leaks around holes where pipes run through walls or floors, to prevent cold air from coming in. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents, and pipes. Use caulk or insulation to keep the cold air out. Even a small opening can let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze.
5. Apply Heating Tape
Heating tape works wonders for pipes, serving as an electric blanket supplying heat directly to the pipe to keep it warm. This is a good solution for pipes that are at high risk for freezing and are easily accessible so you can install the tape and can monitor it.
There are two types of heating tapes. One type is automatic; it turns on and off by itself when it senses the heat is needed. The other type is manual, and it needs to be plugged in when heat is needed and unplugged when it’s not in use. These products can be dangerous, so you must follow the product’s direction and safety procedures to the core.
6. Add Extra Insulation
Pipes that are located in basements or attics, i.e. areas that do not have proper insulation may need extra insulation to keep them from freezing. They can be fitted with foam, rubber, sponge or fibreglass sleeves to reduce its chances of freezing. Additional insulation can also be added to walls and ceilings to keep the pipes warm.
How to deal with it if it happens
In the case your water pipes freeze, you can try defrosting them yourself. If that doesn’t work, contact a qualified plumber. Make sure you’re safely equipped before you do any work. Here are some tips on how to deal with it in case it happens.
Turning on the taps
By turning on the taps in your house, you can relieve the pressure on the system. Furthermore, it can show you where the frozen pipe/pipes are. If water doesn’t come out of several taps, you should call a plumber to look into the matter.
Warming pipes by turning up the heat
If you’re not sure where the frozen pipe is or if it’s not easily accessible, try turning up your heating. Increasing the air temperature in your home can be enough to thaw affected pipes. Portable heaters can be used for unheated internal areas like garages or lofts.
Applying heat to frozen pipes
If the pipe is exposed, you can try applying heat to the pipe itself. First, follow your way through along the pipe until you find the frozen part. Then, you will need to warm the pipe slowly. You can do this by using a hairdryer or warm cloth around the pipe. Do not use a direct flame like a blow torch, as this could boil the water and cause your pipes to explode or melt.