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How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing?

Posted by Rich Droste on Fri, Jan 30, 2015 @ 01:02 PM

Copper pipe insulatingFrozen pipes are one of the most common and costliest property damage events during the cold winter months. In fact, a burst pipe can result in tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Fortunately, frozen pipes can be prevented quite easily and inexpensively.

Water freezes when heat in the water is transferred to subfreez­ing air. The best way to keep water in pipes from freezing is to slow or stop this transfer of heat. Ideally, the best way to protect pipes from subfreezing tem­peratures, is by placing them only in heated spaces and out of attics, crawl spaces and outside walls. Unfortunately, this may not be a practical solution for existing homes. In the case of new construction, however, optimal pipe placement can be designed into the building.

Vulnerable pipes in existing homes should be fitted with insulation sleeves or wrapping to slow the heat transfer. It is important not to leave gaps in the insulation that expose the pipe to cold air. Hardware stores and home centers stock a variety of foam rubber and fiberglass sleeves, in various thicknesses.

Cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations near water pipes should be sealed with caulking to keep cold wind away from the pipes. 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.

Electric heating tapes and cables are also available to run along pipes to keep the water from freezing. These must be used with extreme caution; follow the manufacturer’s instructions careful­ly to avoid the risk of fire, and check to make sure the product conforms to UL 2049. Tapes and cables with a built-in thermo­stat will turn heat on when needed. Tapes without a thermostat have to be plugged in each time heat is needed, and may be forgotten.

Tips to Prevent Frozen Pipes:

  • Install a reliable back-up power source to ensure continuous power to the building.
  • Insulate all attic penetrations.
  • Properly seal all doors and windows. 
  • Seal all wall cracks and penetrations, including utility service lines.
  • Install insulation and/or heat trace tape with a reliable power source on various wet sprinkler system piping. This includes main lines coming up from underground passing through a wall as well as sprinkler branch lines.
  • Place a monitored automatic excess flow switch on the main incoming domestic water line to provide early detection of a broken pipe or valve when the space is unoccupied.
  • When away from home for an extended period of time, don’t set the thermostat at too low of a temperature. If you are not sure how low to set the temperature, consider shutting off the main water supply and draining the water system.
Open bathroom or kitchen faucets adjacent to outside walls to allow the water to slowly drip. This won’t necessarily prevent the pipe from freezing, but it will relieve excessive pressure to prevent the pipe from bursting, if it does freeze.

Topics: Wolgast Restoration, frozen pipes, Prevent pipes from freezing, faucets

What Causes Frozen Pipes to Burst?

Posted by Rich Droste on Tue, Dec 30, 2014 @ 12:59 PM

burst frozen pipeHow do Pipes Burst?

Contrary to popular belief, pipes do not typically burst where the ice blockage is located. The expansion of the ice against the wall of the pipe does not cause it to break. Rather, after a complete ice blockage in a pipe occurs, the continued freezing and expansion inside the pipe causes water pressure to increase downstream, between the ice blockage and a closed faucet at the end. This increase in water pressure is what causes the pipe to fail. Usually the pipe bursts where little or no ice has formed. Upstream from the ice blockage the water can always flow back towards its source, so there is no pressure build-up to cause a break. Water has to freeze for ice blockages to occur. Pipes that are adequately insulated along their entire length are usually safe from freezing.

Which Pipes are Susceptible to Freezing?

Generally, homes and structures in northern climates are built with the water pipes located inside the building insulation, which protects the pipes from subfreezing weather. However, ex­tremely cold weather and holes in the building that allow a flow of cold air to come into contact with pipes can lead to freezing and bursting.

Pipes in attics, crawl spaces and outside walls are all vulnerable to freezing, especially if there are cracks or openings that allow cold, outside air to reach the pipes. Research has shown that “wind chill,” can accelerate the freezing process.

Holes in outside walls where television, cable, or phone lines enter can allow cold air to reach pipes. The size of pipes and their composition (e.g., copper or PVC) have some bearing on how fast ice forms, but they are relatively minor factors in pipe bursting compared with the absence of heat, pipe insulation and exposure to subfreezing air.

At What Temperature do Pipes Freeze?

When should you be alert to the danger of freezing pipes? That depends on the climate where you live, but the “temperature alert threshold” is 20 degrees F.

This threshold is based upon research conducted by the Building Research Council at the University of Illinois. Field tests of residential water systems subjected to winter tempera­tures demonstrated that, for un-insulated pipes installed in an unconditioned attic, the onset of freezing occurred when the outside temperature fell to 20 degrees F or below.

However, freezing incidents can occur when the tem­perature remains above 20 degrees F for an extended period of time. This is especially true if pipes are exposed to cold, flowing air, as on a windy day, due to cracks in an outside wall or lack of insulation. However, the 20 degrees F “temperature alert threshold” should be applicable in most cases.

Topics: Wolgast Restoration, frozen pipes, burst pipes, causes, freezing pipes, freezing temperatures