Return to the Blog Home Page

Dealing With Frozen Pipe Water Damage

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021
water damage

While water damage to a home is a year-round possibility, in many parts of the country, winter cold imposes a very specific risk: frozen pipes. Water supply lines exposed to unusually low temperatures may freeze. Ice formation inside pipes increases internal pressure that eventually splits the pipe material or causes pipe joints to disconnect. Ruptured household water lines can release several hundred gallons into your home per hour, inflicting extensive water damage. 

Generally, outdoor temperatures must drop below 25 degrees before pipes are at risk of freezing. Duration of cold also matters. The longer outdoor temperatures remain in the danger zone, the greater the likelihood of a frozen pipe and subsequent water damage.

Freezing mainly affects pipes:

  • Routed inside exterior walls.
  • Located in an unheated crawl space, basement, attic, or garage.
  • In cabinets under a sink close to an exterior wall.

When temperatures below 25 degrees are forecast:

  • Prepare in advance by installing pipe insulation on all accessible pipe segments routed through unheated zones.
  • Set furnace thermostat to continuously maintain indoor temperatures of 60 degrees.
  • Open faucets to allow slight dripping that releases internal pressure if ice forms.
  • Leave cabinet doors beneath kitchen and bathroom sinks open to allow household heat to reach pipes.

If you suspect a frozen pipe:

Loss of water pressure at one or more fixtures indicates a frozen pipe. Don’t wait for the pipe to thaw out and cause water damage. Turn off all water to the house at the main shutoff valve immediately and call a plumber.

Should a pipe rupture occur:

  • Shut off water to the house at the main shutoff valve and call a plumber.
  • Avoid flooded rooms where electricity is still on. Turn off circuit breakers to affected rooms before entering.
  • Where possible, use a floor squeegee or a broom to push standing water out of the house through a nearby exterior door.
  • Contact qualified professional water damage recovery services ASAP.

Dealing With Water Damage in Winter

Tuesday, January 26th, 2021
water damage in winter

While summer may bring damaging rain, winter’s the season of home water damage related to frigid weather. During one recent winter, 49 of the 50 states experienced freezing temperatures at some point. Home water damage in winter routinely totals over $1 billion nationwide.

Here are two areas where home water damage frequently occurs in winter, as well as strategies to deal with it. 

The Pipes

Sustained temperatures below 25 degrees can initiate ice formation inside pipes that may eventually rupture the pipe. This may release hundreds or thousands of gallons of water into a house. To prevent home water damage due to frozen pipes:

  • Insulate all pipes located outside the heated enclosure of the home, for example, pipes routed through the crawl space and/or attic. Seal the openings in exterior walls that allow frigid outdoor air to infiltrate the structure and contact pipes.
  • If you’re leaving town during possible freezing weather, consider turning off the water supply to the house at the main valve.
  • If you have reason to believe a pipe has frozen, turn off the water at the main valve and call a plumber immediately.

The Roof

Ice and snow can trigger home water damage in two ways:

  • Ice dams forming along the lower edge of the roof prevent melting snow from draining into gutters. Standing water on the roof rapidly penetrates shingles and leaks into the attic. Ice dams are related to heat accumulation in the upper portion of the attic, melting snow at the roof peak more rapidly while the lower roof remains frozen. Prevent ice dams by eliminating heat infiltration into the attic. Verify that attic insulation is intact and meets current specs. Seal the cracks and gaps in ceilings to prevent heat transfer into the attic.
  • Snow accumulation on a roof can be heavy enough to damage the roof structure and trigger leakage. About 10 inches of snow exerts five pounds per square foot on roofing materials. If accumulated snow becomes deep enough, roof leakage due to excess weight may seep into the house and cause indoor water damage.

What To Do… And NOT Do When Your Pipes Have Frozen

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

frozen pipesFrozen pipes can usually be prevented—except when they can’t. Sometimes a span of pipe the homeowner isn’t even aware of and/or isn’t readily accessible may freeze. Or overnight temperatures may plummet unexpectedly low without warning and freezing may occur before preventive measures can be taken. Whatever the case, if water pressure drops noticeably at certain fixtures in the house—or flow stops entirely—and outdoor temperatures have dipped into the danger zone (generally 25 degrees Fahrenheit or lower), you can assume you have frozen pipes somewhere.

Important steps to take

In most cases, not all plumbing in the entire house will be affected by freezing. Some fixtures will still have normal water supply while others will be reduced to a trickle or totally shut down. Looking for a pattern may help you make an informed guess about which specific water supply line is frozen. Once you have identified a possible suspect, here are some steps to take (and some to not take).

  • Open the faucet at the affected fixture and leave it open.
  • Identify and trace the water supply line connecting to that fixture. Trace the pipe backwards from the fixture until you come to a span that may have been exposed to freezing temperatures such as in a crawl space, attic, or in the garage.
  • Attempt to warm the suspect segment of pipe with a hair dryer, an electric heating pad, or by wrapping it with cloths soaked in hot water. Take extreme care when using any electrical device in a wet environment.
  • Don’t try to thaw a pipe using an open flame such as a propane torch.
  • Don’t wait for a pipe to completely thaw on its own if you suspect that the pipe has ruptured. If you note any evidence such as a split in a pipe, or a joint that has broken loose, turn off the water supply at the main house shutoff valve and call a qualified plumber now.

Frozen pipes that rupture cause millions of dollars in losses every year due to water damage and associated consequences. It is always best to find and fix the issue quickly before major repairs are needed.

 

How To Protect Your Pipes From Freezing This Winter Season

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

pipe insulationBroken pipes due to freezing can occur no matter what type of plumbing is installed. Copper pipe and PVC are both rigid and may crack due to pressure of ice formation. Even newer flexible PEX piping is not immune and can separate at connecting joints. The power of frozen water is truly remarkable: inside an enclosed pipe, expanding ice formation can exert tons of pressure per square inch. Merely a one-eighth inch crack that results can release over 250 gallons of water per day, more than enough to ruin possessions and cause expensive structural damage.

The Danger Point

Ice formation inside pipes doesn’t necessarily occur as soon as temperatures drop below the 32-degree freezing point. Latent heat in water usually means a harder, longer freeze is required before the pipe is truly at risk. In most cases, temperatures will have to drop below 25 degrees and remain there for a certain period before the risk of broken pipes and water damage becomes dangerously high.

To prevent the losses and inconvenience of pipe ruptures, here are some steps you can take:

  • Use slip-on foam pipe insulation sleeves to protect all accessible spans of water supply pipe located outside the thermal envelope of the house: in the garage, the crawl space, the attic and other unconditioned areas where household heat doesn’t reach.
  • Check the exterior of the house for any openings that allow frigid outdoor air to penetrate and reach plumbing. Fill these openings with expandable spray foam insulation or permanently patch with building materials.
  • During a cold spell, keep the house heated to at least 55 degrees at all times to warm the plumbing. If you’re going to be out of town, have a trusted person check on the house and keep the furnace running.
  • If forecasts predict temperatures will drop into the danger zone, open faucets slightly in the house and allow water to trickle until temperatures rise again. Water moving through the pipes discourages freezing.

Broken pipes due to freezing are an issue for homeowners every winter. Doing even these few preventive measures can help avoid resultant water damage.

 

3 Causes Of Winter Home Water Damage

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

ice damsWhile water damage may occur at any time of year, cold temperatures and inclement weather can combine to trigger winter water damage such as leaks and water intrusion, particularly in residential structures. Another aspect of winter damage is the simple fact that it’s an inconvenient time of year to have to dry out a house. To reduce seasonal risks, be aware of these common sources of water damage in winter:

Frozen Pipes
Ice forming in a water supply line can cause internal pressure as high as 2,000 p.s.i. and rupture the pipe, releasing hundreds of gallons per hour. Install pipe insulation on all supply pipes potentially exposed to freezing temperatures such as in the crawl space or up in the attic. When a hard freeze is forecast, open faucets slightly and allow them to drip to relieve pressure if pipes freeze. If water flow stops during extreme cold, assume a pipe has frozen. Don’t wait until it thaws to find out there’s a rupture. Contact a plumber immediately.

Ice Dams
When the underside of the upper portion of the roof is disproportionately warm, snow melts faster. Water runs down to the colder portion of the roof then freezes again, obstructing flow of runoff into gutters. Pooling water then seeps through shingles and sub-roofing and causes water damage in the attic. Uneven roof warming is caused by excess attic warmth. Prevent ice dams by making sure the attic is properly ventilated to remain uniformly cold. Seal ceiling cracks, gaps and other openings with caulking to prevent heat loss into the attic. Also inspect attic insulation to verify that it meets current Department of Energy standards.

Snow Melt
Melting snow around the perimeter of the house can saturate deep into the soil and leak through the foundation and basement walls. Shovel accumulated snow away from the house before melting occurs. Seal cracks and gaps in the basement wall and, if you don’t have one, install a sump pump.

It’s cold outside! Knowing the types of winter water damage that can occur can help you avoid these hazards.

Common Causes of Broken Pipes

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Broken pipes not only cause household damage: they make headlines, too. Recently, we read the story of the Missouri homeowner who was out of town for a brief getaway when a common water supply line inside his house ruptured. He returned to find that his home had been inundated with nearly 45,000 gallons of water in his absence. Broken pipes can inflict severe water damage to structure and valuables, as well as make a house toxic due to mold growth. Most pipe ruptures fall into one of three categories:

broken pipesFreezing

In winter, it’s a major cause of indoor water damage. Anywhere they are contacted by air below 28 degrees Fahrenheit, pipes may freeze and rupture. Pipes in unconditioned areas like crawl spaces and attics are at particular risk. Placing slip-on foam insulating sleeves on accessible pipes helps prevent freezing. So does sealing cracks and openings that allow frigid outside air into crawl spaces or exterior walls where pipes are routed.

Corrosion

While galvanized steel pipes have long been known for corrosion and rupture, copper pipes may internally degrade as well, leading to eventual failure. A major factor in the corrosion of copper pipes is the pH factor of the local municipal water supply. Water with a pH below 7 is acidic and over time corrodes copper piping from the inside out. A red flag is the appearance of pinhole leaks that “weep” small amounts of water. Because they may mask severe internal corrosion and an impending catastrophic pipe rupture, pinhole leaks should never be ignored. Contact a plumber ASAP.

Water Pressure

Water pressure straight from the municipal water supply line would be too high for your household plumbing. Therefore,  a pressure regulator at the meter reduces pressure to a safe level of about 40 to 50 p.s.i. However, if the regulator is defective or out of adjustment, pressure may rise high enough to cause pipe rupture. A plumber can attach a gauge to check the pressure, then check the regulator if necessary.

For more on recognizing and addressing issues that cause broken pipes, contact Rytech, Inc.

How to Protect Your Home From Winter Storms to Avoid Water Damage

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Protect Your Home From Winter StormsWinter storm protection and water damage prevention go hand in hand. During the cold months to come, weather conditions will present season-specific threats that tend to increase the risk of household damage due to water intrusion. Any time of year,  the best strategy for water damage recovery is to take adequate precautions to prevent it in the first place. (more…)