This winter, be aware and take care to protect your home or business against water damage that can result from frozen and burst pipes. Water freezes when heat in the water is transferred to subfreezing air. Most homes in Massachusetts are built with water pipes located on the inside of the building insulation, in order to protect the pipes from subfreezing weather. However, extremely cold weather and holes in the structure that allow a flow of cold air to come into contact with pipes, can result in frozen pipes. When the standing water inside a pipe freezes, it expands causing a great deal of pressure. The pipe may burst if this pressure becomes too great resulting in an unwanted flow of water. What most people don’t realize is that a pipe doesn’t generally burst in the exact location where ice has formed. Depending on the location of the burst pipe, and the duration and volume of the water flow, a burst pipe can cause extensive water damage to a home or business.
To avoid this type of damage, it is best to be proactive. Following are some tips to help guard your home or business against frozen pipes:
- The thermostat should never be set lower than 55° Fahrenheit.
- When no one is at home for an extended period of time during the cold winter months, the water system should be turned off and drained.
- Outdoor faucets with exposed pipes should be drained and turned off before winter.
- Pipes which are vulnerable to cold air should be fitted with insulation sleeves or wrapping. The more insulation the better and it is particularly important not to leave gaps in the insulation which can expose the pipe to cold air.
- All cracks and holes in outside walls should be sealed with caulking to prevent pipes from being exposed to cold air.
- Electric heating tapes and cables are available to run along pipes to keep the water from freezing. These must be used with extreme caution; follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully!
- Kitchen and bathroom cabinets can keep warm inside air from reaching pipes under sinks and in adjacent outside walls. It’s a good idea to keep cabinet doors open during cold spells to let the warm air circulate around the pipes.
- For pipes vulnerable to freezing (for example, ones that run through an unheated or unprotected space) consider allowing a slight flow of water during cold spells. Faucets left slightly open (both hot and cold lines) can relieve excess pressure that builds up between the faucet and the ice blockage.
Being aware is key to guarding against damages from frozen pipes. If you open a faucet and no water comes out, don’t take any chances. Call a plumber. If a water pipe bursts, immediately turn off the water at the main shut-off valve (usually located near the water meter or where the main line enters the building); leaving the faucet(s) open until repairs are completed.
May this winter bring only the warmest experiences to you and yours!