Homeowners everywhere from Alaska to Texas need to consider the risk of frozen pipes in their homes. Water damage and freezing claims were the second most common form of claim filed in the United States between 2014 and 2018, where approx. one in 50 insured homes made claims each year.
Homeowners filing these claims lose an average of nearly $ 11,000, and unfortunately the cost of these claims increases – growing by over 37% between 2014 and 2018.
While these are worrying statistics, you can avoid frozen pipes and water damage claims by learning how pipes freeze, taking preventative action, and investing in some tools.
Although water freezes at thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit, pipes act as a barrier, so water inside them generally does not freeze until it is below twenty degrees. Pipes with little or no insulation can freeze when the outdoor temperature drops below twenty degrees.
Water expands when it freezes, which is cumbersome for pipes. When the water freezes along the length of the pipe, the pressure rises between the ice and a closed end point, such as a faucet or washing machine hose. The pressure can grow too great for the limited space to handle, resulting in a pipe bursting.
Homes in the southern and western regions of the United States tend to be more prone to freezing and water damage than homes in the northern region, which are often built to withstand Arctic explosions.
Because southern homes sometimes have less insulation – and the pipes leading to the home are not always so far underground – they have a greater risk of water damage.
No matter where you live, these four types of pipes tend to be the most vulnerable to freezing.
- Uninsulated pipes
- Touch the outside of the home
- Pipes located in attics, garages, basements, crawl spaces or other uninsulated areas
- Copper or galvanized steel pipes
There are also other areas in homes that are susceptible to freezing. Plugs and hoses on washing machines, dishwashers and water heaters are vulnerable to freezing as they can become brittle and break. Sinks and showers also pose potential hazards.
Outside, taps, sprinkler systems and swimming pool lines may not be as well insulated as indoor plumbing and may be the first points to collapse during a hard freeze.
It is important to take precautions when the outdoor temperature is close to freezing – temperatures can change overnight and wind chills leave pipes vulnerable to freezing and bursting. To prevent frozen pipes in the home, you must first know what kind of pipes you have.
If your home uses copper or galvanized steel pipes, make sure they do not need to be replaced as they are subject to erosion and corrosion. Polybutylene pipes – commonly installed in homes fifteen to forty-five years ago – are particularly prone to failure and should be replaced immediately as they no longer comply with U.S. building codes.
However, you do not need to replace pipes most of the time, especially if you take the following measures each fall:
1. Empty, remove and store outdoor hoses to prevent them from becoming fragile or posing a tripping hazard after snowfall or freezing. Also drain water from outdoor wiring, such as those connected to swimming pools and sprinklers.
2. Open external hose connectors but close internal valves that supply them with water. This process causes the water to drain and in case of freezing expand without bursting a pipe. If you are going on a longer vacation, turn off the water for the home and open all the faucets to drain the remaining water in the pipes.
3. Insulate water supply pipes and pipes in the garage, basement, attic and other unheated areas with foam, underfloor heating or casing. Do the same for pipes under kitchen sinks.
4. Make sure your home is enclosed and insulated. Find and close any cracks, pulls and holes in the outside of the house. Even small openings are welcome in cold air, which affects pipes and heating bills. Enclose crawlspaces and insulate the ceiling. The extra insulation layer keeps warm air inside and cold weather outside. Close the garage door to keep the heat inside, especially if it closes the water supply lines, the water heater or a washing machine.
5. Keep the thermostat constant– not below fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit – day and night, and when on vacation. You may see a higher supply bill, but it will be cheaper than the water damage cost.
6. Open cabinet doors when the temperature drops below thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit. Opening cabinets let hot air circulate around the plumbing in the kitchen and bathroom.
7. Let hot and cold water seep through your pipes during cool nights to prevent them from freezing.
8. Find a local plumber. In the worst case, you need to have the number of a trusted plumbing professional on hand.
If the pipes freeze, you may be tempted to go to the nearest hotel for some running water, but do not be quick. Follow these steps to prevent freezing from becoming a disaster:
1. Extinguish the main water valve.
2. Call a plumber if the frozen tube is in an area you can not reach – such as underground or in an interior wall.
3. Use warm air to help thaw the tubes if you have access to the frozen tube. You can use a hair dryer, heating tape or a space heater, but do not leave it unattended – it can catch fire.
4. Slowly turn on the water again, look for leaks. You may need someone to help you with this step.
5. Repeat steps three and four if the water does not resume flow immediately.
If a pipe bursts before you are able to thaw it, close your water immediately to prevent flooding. Wipe off any clutter you can reach and contact a plumber. Once the plumber has assessed the damage, you need to get started with an insurance claim.
You do not have to face frozen pipes alone. The following products can help you prevent frozen pipes and protect pipes from bursting.
Pipes freeze all the time, but it does not have to. If you use these tips, tricks and products, we hope you never have to file a claim for water damage or freezing.