When Pipes Freeze, What do You Do?

Did you know that almost a quarter percentage of property damage in America? Every winter can be a toss-up regarding cold weather.

Although it has been warmer these past few winters, the latest one has proven that any cold snap can cause chaos to any property owner, as pipes can freeze and fall into disrepair without proper consideration.

That is where our teams at The Fire Restoration Team come into play. Before calling us whenever “Old Man Winter” strikes, let’s explain everything you need to know.

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Fire damage cleanup and restoration

What Temperature Do Pipes Burst?

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty question that first pops into your mind for this situation.

In much of the US (i.e., places like the Northeast, Midwest, Rockies, Great Plains, and Northwest), new temperature records have become the new normal due to climate change.

Having to get out the snow shovel and shivering when plowing your front drive or sidewalk, you may forget the freezing effects on your plumbing. That is why when these conditions occur (typically single-digit temperatures or below), it is always a best practice to inspect the pipework of your home or property. If you do not own the property, raise this concern with your landlord.

Not addressing these problems ASAP can cause vital systems that allow fluids like potable water to freeze, resulting in water leaks when the water inside the pipe thaws. Damaged areas by such temperature fluctuations can lead to undetected leakages concealed by building materials such as drywall.

Consequently, water leaks can rot the structure’s wood, thus increasing the possibility of mold growth. That is not just a concern for buildings made of timber, as it can occur in any building material. Furthermore, you can save thousands of dollars in damage by listening to your “gut” and calling a professional to inspect the inside of your home or business.

Additionally, it inhibits the use of vital devices such as faucets, showerheads, and countless other kitchen and laundry appliances. Cold temperatures can bring this type of misfortune.

Be Ready to Handle Frozen Pipes 

Throughout the year, but especially in the winter, The Fire Restoration Team stays busy helping residents and business owners across Chicagoland recover from damage losses resulting from water-related incidents such as ruptured plumbing fixtures. As soon as they burst, your property will be inundated with cold water & muck that will leave you reeling the next time you see your water bill.

We want to protect you from the elements in the winter & beyond; hence, we have a guide covering the A’s about frozen pipes.

How to Tell If Pipes Are Frozen

Water pipes usually explode when the temperature falls below freezing point quickly (i.e., a cold snap). It is more stark when the temperature from one day to the next is significant, in single digits or negative Fahrenheit. Nonetheless, a windchill (strong winds that cause temperatures to feel colder on bare skin than what is measured) with a combination of low humidity penetrating in & around the pipework leads to a recipe for disaster, as we will later discuss.

It’s a common issue for businesses & homeowners to experience across the country’s northern part. Unfortunately, that is not the only factor. Wind can persist the most when we least want it, which is winter, sending evening temperatures into extreme wintry conditions. Also typical in much of the Northeast and Midwest are the blizzard conditions from weather patterns affected by large bodies of water (e.g., lake effect snow from The Great Lakes).

This condition affects utilities outside & inside businesses regardless of the conditions and robustness of your plumbing system.

In places like Chicago, for example, the weather is bipolar. It can be 60 degrees Fahrenheit one day and 10 degrees Fahrenheit the next. You will not be able to prevent this fickleness.

However, there is a strong chance that the temperatures will be frigid for at least a couple of consecutive weeks. In other words, the thermometer drops well under freezing point for much of the season. Specifically, this occurs between December and late February, even late April; just ask most people from the area.

These temperature plunges are enough to rupture pipes across the metro. Why would your home or business be any different?

Will Pipes Burst if They Freeze?

The overly simplistic answer is because of the cold weather. Extreme cold causes pipes to crack. However, it isn’t so simple of an answer because otherwise, all utilities throughout your area would need new pipework every year when it is cold, which would be a headache for specialists like us.

In addition, humidity outside tends to be low for much of this time. Allowing this air into supposed ambient air (i.e., where pipes are meant to be placed) forces the pipe’s surface to withstand contrasting conditions to the point where surface material fractures. This condition penetrates the inside, resulting in dry humidity outside, which then causes pipes to burst when thawing occurs outside.

What really happens is the frozen fluid inside your property’s utilities causes them to expand. Although a very different process, this is parallel to the heat effect experienced by ductwork when heat passes through it. Likewise, when fluid like water freezes, it exerts pressure on the concentric inside surface of the pipe. That causes the pipe to expand since it experiences uniform pressure from the inner surface of the pipe. When water freezes inside tubes, it expands on a molecular level.

Inadequate Insulation

  • Replace any insulation exposed to any moisture. If you are not sure, have a professional inspect it if you suspect it.

Significant Temperature Drops

As mentioned, much of the country is unfamiliar with temperatures, especially the Midwest. Temperature changes more significant than 10 degrees Fahrenheit are enough of a catalyst to burst pipes made out of any material.

Sustained Freezes

Frigid temperatures often come with windy conditions that can carry drafts to unwanted places.

Low Room Temperatures

Low temperatures can mess with your furnace and heating systems, which can only compound on the effect. It is even worse when there are power outages, as is more common in winter.

How Do I Mitigate This Problem?

Large temperature differences between the pipe’s exterior & interior surfaces, the inside fluid, & the air surrounding the pipe are the four temperatures you should be aware of when such circumstances occur.

Typically, temperatures from either of these that contrast each other to such a degree can lead to significant pressure changes that transfer the force of unfrozen water downstream from the frozen point to the end faucet.

Much of this is thanks to gravity and basic heat transfer. Thankfully, you do not need to know that, as predicting these incidents comes down to checking out the forecast for your area.

Remember that pipe bursts occur between the faucet & the frozen blockage.

The Fire Restoration Team would be able to find ruptures with little to no icicles throughout each pipe. They are often camouflaged like black ice on the pavement.

However, our crew is trained to track the slightest indication, as the tone of the surface is the biggest giveaway as to whether there is a crack. Be aware that this can all occur in as little as six hours.

To summarize, let’s go over the main factors that cause pipes to freeze & burst during winter.

What to Do About Frozen Water Pipes

Warm up your the Building with a Heater

Let Water Drip Through your Faucet to Increase Temperatures

Keep Ventilation in Areas Where Your Pipework is At

Make Sure Your Walls are Porous-Free to Prevent any Cold Drafts Coming in

There is No Such Thing as Too Much Insulation in This Case

TFRT’s Procedure for Handling Frozen Pipes

Have Plumbing Team Come

Turn Off Main Valve

First, plumbers stopped the flow of water by turning off the main valve.

All Pipes Are Inspected and Fixed

The burst pipe is fixed and an inspection is performed on all other pipes in the area to ensure they were not also frozen prior to turning the water back on.

Dehumidify Areas Where Pipes Are At

Our plumbing specialists utilize multiple fans and dehumidifiers in impacted areas to reduce the moisture content. This is important to reduce the amount of work necessary to restore possibly affected areas, which increases the amount of work done to repair areas that may be moist from a pipe burst.

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