Kansas usually include some amount of bitter cold and temperatures well below freezing. Freezing temperatures can cause unprotected water lines to freeze, creating a big mess and costly damage if they burst. Fortunately, there are a few easy ways you can protect your pipes and prevent a catastrophe.
What Causes Pipes to Burst?
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not ice expanding in the pipe that causes it to burst, it’s the pressure that builds up between the faucet and the frozen point. If the water lines thaw before the pressure becomes too great, the pipe will remain intact. However, if they stay frozen for too long, or freeze, thaw and refreeze a few times, the unfrozen water in the pipe will eventually have enough pressure on it that it will cause a rupture in the line. When that happens, thousands of gallons of water could pour freely from the pipe before anyone even notices the leak.
How to Prevent Water Lines from Freezing
Insulate Walls and Doors
First, if recurring pipe freezes are a problem, considering insulating walls and doors, add weather stripping to doors, and ensure windows are properly sealed. Though more expensive, keeping the room warm is the best long-term fix.
Another option; before cold weather hits, insulate water pipes in the unheated parts of your home, (e.g. attic, crawlspace, and garage) by wrapping them with foam insulating sleeves found at the hardware store. If you don’t have foam coverings, consider using old towels and blankets. Be cautious of fire hazards.
Add A Pipe Heater or Heat Tape
You can install (or hire a professional plumber to install) a water pipe heater or heat tape, which applies heat directly to your water lines to prevent freezing. These items can be found at most hardware stores.
Close Doors and Windows
If water lines run through your garage or the exterior wall that connects to it, close your garage door on cold days to add an extra layer of protection from the cold air and wind.
Allow Warm Air Into Closed Areas
When the temperatures are expected to be especially low, leave the doors open on the cabinets under your sinks, and let water drip from the faucets. This will allow warm air from the rest of your home to circulate around the pipes to prevent freezing, and the dripping water will prevent pressure from building up in the lines.
If you’ll be traveling or just away from home for an extended period of time during cold months, don’t set your thermostat any lower than 55 degrees. It’s also a good idea to shut off your main water supply and open each faucet to let the water drain from the pipes.
A licensed plumber can also re-route your supply lines and water pipes away from unheated areas of your home, like the garage and exterior walls.
What to Do if Your Pipes Freeze
First, shut off the main water supply valve to the home or business.
Then, open the faucet that the pipe feeds water into (if you can determine the location of the frozen pipe). This will relieve some of the pressure in the system, and allow the water to flow as the temperature changes.
Next, warm up the room if possible. If you can, open doors that will allow more heat in, open heating vents, or turn on a space heater.
You can then try to warm the pipes using a hair dryer or space heater near the frozen area. Sometimes hot towels wrapped around the pipe will help also. Always monitor the warming process and be aware of the manufacturer’s suggestions for proper use.
As noted above, a pipe heater from your local hardware store will also be useful to unthaw a frozen pipe.
Do not attempt to thaw your pipes with items such as an open flame, blow torch, or heat lamp. These could cause a fire, electrocution, or even an explosion from a build-up of steam pressure.
Be cautious of water leaking from the thawing pipes near electrical wiring and appliances. Water and electricity is a dangerous mix.
What if the Pipe Bursts?
If your pipe is leaking or has burst, shut off your main water supply and call a plumber. Shutting off the supply can limit water damage.
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