How to Prevent Water Pipes from Bursting In Freezing Weather

How to Prevent Water Pipes from Bursting In Freezing Weather

Plumbing
Foundations
Small Projects and Repairs
By Mateos Glen Hayes April 29, 2021

Frozen pipes can cause major headaches for homeowners. This is something that many Texans experienced firsthand in the wake of a large winter storm in early 2021 which caused the temperature to plunge below 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Housing infrastructure in Texas was not built to withstand such low temperatures, and the storm caused a lot of damage. Plumbers had to be called in from every corner of the United States because Texan plumbers couldn’t keep up with the thousands of homes with burst pipes. The broken pipes caused a lot of other problems, too.  

A busted water pipe means more than just leaking pipes: it can cause major damage to your home as water leaks into your walls and your house. Water damage can ruin furniture and drywall, as well as fixtures and appliances. Put simply, frozen water pipes can be a rather expensive problem, and so is worth putting in fail-safes for. In this article, we’ll show you how to protect pipes from freezing and bursting. But first, let’s take a look at the main causes of busted water pipes. 

How and Why Pipes Burst

Hot to Prevent Pipes from Bursting in Freezing Weather

Hot to Prevent Pipes from Bursting in Freezing Weather

When a pipe bursts, the main culprit is the material the pipe is made of. If this material becomes fatigued, the pipe becomes unable to handle water pressure and will crack and fail. Copper pipes are more prone to this, as they can experience metal fatigue as they age, which makes them less able to cope with an extreme increase in pressure. Plastic pipes are relatively more flexible, but they can also burst. 

Many factors can cause pipes to fail in this way aside from just age. They can get clogged by waste, damaged by earthquakes, landslides, tree roots, or cars driving above them. If pipes aren’t connected properly this could cause them to fail prematurely. They can even break if the water pressure becomes too high. However, the most common cause for broken pipes is when those pipes freeze. Water pipes tend to contract when exposed to extreme winter temperatures, especially when they are made of metal. This makes them less flexible, and therefore less able to accommodate an increase in pressure. 

Water begins to freeze in pipes when the temperature falls below 25 degrees Fahrenheit. When water freezes, it expands and eventually causes a blockage in the pipe, preventing water from passing through normally. Instead, the water starts to build up, creating more ice and more pressure on the constrained pipe. Eventually, the pressure becomes too much, and the pipe bursts, causing the accumulated water to surge out of the pipe. The broken pipe will keep leaking until the water is cut off or until pipe repairs are completed.     

Why Don’t Colder Parts of the World Have Burst Pipes All the Time?

How Come Pipes Don't Burst in Some Cold Countries

How Come Pipes Don't Burst in Some Cold Countries

Ultimately, the most effective way to stop pipes from freezing is to set them up with winter in mind. In especially colder parts of the world, it is normal to install water mains deep underground to protect pipes from freezing. For example, water pipes in Russia are required by law to be put at least 1.40 miles underground to prevent freezing. Russia, along with several other countries in colder parts of the world, operates central heating plants which send hot water in pipes that run next to cold water pipes. These precautions go a long way towards reducing the water supply problems caused by the extreme cold. Likewise, places with extreme winters tend to also place power lines underground to prevent outages caused by high winds or falling trees. A prominent example of this is Manhattan, where the huge electricity outages caused by the winter storm of 1888 prompted utility companies to move their power lines underground. 

How Power Centers Affect Your Piping

How Power Centers Affect Your Piping

Local and national governments should seriously consider devoting resources to winter-proofing utilities, especially in light of the immense economic damage storms can cause. Even something as simple as putting residential water mains deep enough will significantly reduce the risk of water freezing. Although a city adopting precautionary measures can be a lot more impactful than anything homeowners can do on their own, there are things that homeowners can do to avoid burst pipes.  

Useful Tips to Prevent Pipes From Freezing and Bursting

The simplest way to keep your pipes trouble-free is to get a plumber to check your pipes at least once every two years. This will allow you to keep an eye on your pipes and catch any potential problems before they lead to a broken pipe. You should also be mindful of what you put in your pipes. Avoid letting large pieces of solid food go down the drain, and don’t flush bathroom hygiene products other than toilet paper since these can contribute to clogging in your pipes. This is especially true if you live in an older home where clogged pipes are more likely to happen. 

To keep pipes from freezing, there are some other things you can do:

Tips to Prevent Pipes From Freezing

Tips to Prevent Pipes From Freezing

Don’t forget your outside faucet.

Because it is outside, your hose bib is particularly vulnerable to freezing. Before the cold snap comes, be sure to drain your hose bib by opening it and disconnecting the valve that leads from your water source to your hose bib. You should also disconnect your water hose from your hose bib to allow it to drain.

Leave your tap running.

Some websites may tell you that leaving your faucets running will prevent broken pipes by keeping water flowing. This however is a misconception. Leaving your tap running may not stop freezing, but acts as a bleed valve for pressure, preventing the water pressure from becoming too high due to ice. 

Tip: For the best results, you should choose the tap which is the furthest away from your water source. This will allow water to flow throughout your entire plumbing system. For this method to work, you need to make sure your indoor temperature doesn’t fall below 30 degrees. If your house is especially cold, this can cause water to freeze as it goes into the drain, causing your sink to back up and overflow.  

Drain before traveling.

If you plan to be away from your home for a few days, be sure to shut off your water mains and drain all your taps. This will take you just a few minutes, and will greatly reduce the risk of your indoor pipes freezing.

Leave cabinet doors open.

If your kitchen sink has a cabinet under it (as most do), you should leave your cabinet doors open so that your pipes stay relatively warm.

 

Prevent Your Pipes from Bursting With These Tips

Prevent Your Pipes from Bursting With These Tips

DIY Solutions

There are also modifications you can make to your house on your own to help prevent pipes from freezing. Here are two relatively cheap solutions that can make the difference between pipes bursting and remaining intact: 

Improve your home’s insulation.

You can protect your pipes from freezing by finding and sealing leaks where cold air can come in them with caulk, tape, or insulation. Even a tiny gap in your insulation can lead to broken pipes. For bigger problems with insulation, it's a good idea to get in touch with an insulation contractor. 

Your Home's Insulation Can Affect Your Piping

Your Home's Insulation Can Affect Your Piping

Install heat tape.

This is essentially a roll of heated cable which is designed to be attached to pipes and keep them warm. Heat tape can be ordered at the specific length you need, and some versions of it come with a regulator which allows the heat tape to turn on and off automatically based on temperature. Heat tape can be easily installed by following the instructions from the manufacturer. After putting on heat tape, covering the pipes with insulation will better prepare your pipes for freezing temperatures.

DIY Solutions to Prevent Bursting Pipes

DIY Solutions to Prevent Bursting Pipes

What to Do When a Pipe Bursts In Your Home

Pipe bursts are unpredictable things, and they can happen even when you take precautions. If a pipe bursts in your house, a speedy response will help prevent major damage. To be prepared, everyone in your home should know where the shutoff valve is for your water mains and how to use it. Being able to shut off your water immediately after a pipe burst will allow you to turn a potential disaster into a relatively minor annoyance. A water pipe burst should be repaired as soon as possible, so a plumber should be called quickly. 

What to Do When a Pipe Bursts In Your Home

What to Do When a Pipe Bursts In Your Home

 

If you get a broken pipe you will see at least some water damage in your home, but clearing away water will prevent worse damage and keep mold and mildew away. If there’s been a leak, grab some towels, and leave some doors and windows open to help your house dry faster. Once you have stopped the leak, a repair sleeve will give you a temporary fix so you can still use your water pipes while you wait for repairs.

MG

Written by
Mateos Glen Hayes

Written by Mateos Glen Hayes

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