As the temperature drops, pipes that are exposed to the cold are prone to freeze. This is especially true if they are located in unheated areas like basements, crawl spaces, attics and garages. Pipes that run along poorly insulated exterior walls can also be affected by the extremes in temperature.
The continued freezing and then thawing of these pipes can cause the metal to become weakened and break. Water damage caused by burst pipes can result in toxic mold. If the damage isn’t repaired correctly, or isn’t repaired soon enough, it can cause a build-up of mold inside the walls that can make a house uninhabitable. Keep in mind that your homeowner’s policy covers damage from burst pipes, but most likely not related damage from mold.
The best way to keep from being in this situation is to be proactive and prevent pipes from freezing:
· Install adequate insulation in outside walls that have pipes running along side them, under the floors above the basement, and above the attic ceiling.
· Disconnect the garden hose before the cold weather begins.
· Wrap exposed pipes with insulating sleeves.
· Seal foundation cracks in crawlspaces that could let cold air in that will cause pipes to freeze.
· Open the cabinet doors under your sinks during extreme cold weather to allow warm air to get in.
· Run a small trickle of water through cold and hot water faucets attached to pipes that could potentially freeze.
If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle of water comes out, the pipe is probably frozen. There are some things you can do to thaw the pipe safely. Here are some guidelines recommended by the American Red Cross:
· Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt more ice in the pipe.
· Apply heat to the section of the pipe that is frozen by using either an electric heating pad that is wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable electric space heater, or by wrapping the pipe in towels that have been soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device. A blowtorch can make water in a frozen pipe boil and cause it to explode. Open flames present serious fire danger, as well as risk of exposure to carbon monoxide.
· Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is inaccessible, or if you cannot thaw the frozen area, call a licensed plumber.
· Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may too.
If you would like more information about protecting your pipes from freezing, you can access the American Red Cross’ Fact Sheet: Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes by logging on to http://www.redcross.org/static/file_cont338_lang0_155.pdf