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Here's What To Do When Pipes Freeze

Jan 21, 2019

what to do when pipes freeze

It’s been a cold few weeks in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia area. Snow, sleet, and ice are all causes for concern for homeowners, particularly when it comes to frozen pipes. Frozen pipes can be fixed if taken care of quickly. However, if left ignored, frozen pipes can burst, leading to water damage and mold growth in your home.

Let’s explore some of the conditions that can cause pipes to freeze, ways to fix frozen pipes, and how homeowners can prevent pipes from freezing in the future.

Why do pipes freeze?

If you’ve ever accidentally left a water bottle in the freezer overnight, then you’ve learned the hard way that water expands when it freezes. When outdoor temperatures drop, the water in your pipes begins to freeze and expand. If the pipe expands too much, it can burst, leading to serious water damage.

How to Fix Frozen Pipes

Homeowners need to know what to do when pipes freeze in order to protect their homes. If not treated, frozen pipes can potentially burst and cause serious water damage. In a situation where every second counts, here are a few things you can do to save yourself and your family a whole mess of trouble.

The first sign of a frozen pipe is little or no water flow. If you experience this in your home, try the following tips before calling a CroppMetcalfe plumber:

  1. Turn off the main water valve, but make sure to keep your faucets open. Keeping your faucets open will help release pressure buildup in your pipes, which will reduce the likelihood of a burst pipe.

Please be aware that turning off the main water supply in your home may also turn off fire protection systems like sprinklers!

  1. Turn on the hot water. It seems counterintuitive, but hot water lines actually freeze first because hot water contains less oxygen. Continue to keep the faucet open. As the frozen area starts to melt, the small amount of running water will help melt the ice.
  1. Open the cabinet doors under your kitchen sink. Turn up the heat in your home to slowly heat up the pipes. It can take a little while to fully thaw the frozen pipes, but it’s important to be patient.
  1. If you are able to boil some water, soak a towel in the hot water and wrap the towel around the frozen pipe.

It is extremely important to stay safe while working with frozen pipes. Do NOT try to use a blowtorch, propane heater, or any open flame device to heat up your pipes. If you are unable to find the frozen area, or the area is not easily accessible, call a plumbing professional for help. 

Ways to Prevent Frozen Pipes

Frozen pipes in your home can be a huge pain, but there are precautions you can take to help prevent frozen pipes during the cold winter months:

Don’t turn off the heat. Make sure that your thermostat is never set below 55 degrees, even if you’re on vacation and no one is occupying the house. It may seem like a good way to cut back on heating expenses, but turning off the heat increases the odds of pipes freezing, which can cause costly damage if the frozen pipes burst.

Read more: Is lowering your heat temperature a good idea in extreme cold?

Let the faucet drip. One way to prevent pipes from freezing is by allowing water to drip from a faucet served by exposed pipes. Don’t be worried about increasing your water bill — only a small trickle is required to prevent frozen pipes. The risk of frozen pipes drops off significantly when water is continually flowing through the exposed pipes.

Seal cracks or gaps around pipes. Cracks in your home’s foundation, gaps around pipes, and damaged insulation all allow your home’s plumbing system to come in contact with cold outdoor air, increasing the chance that pipes will freeze. We recommend adding this task to your fall maintenance “to do” list in order to save yourself the headache when winter hits and frozen pipes become a more serious risk.

Read more: How to Prepare Your Home for Winter

Add insulation to pipes. It is more common in areas with warm or neutral climates to see homes with uninsulated plumbing systems since the temperature rarely drops too low. Poorly insulated pipes — typically found in basements, attics, crawlspaces, and garages— are more susceptible to freezing when cold weather arrives. You can help prevent pipes from freezing by using foam rubber or fiberglass insulation sleeves to build a barrier between the pipes and cold air, reducing the risk of frozen pipes.

Keep garage doors closed. If your garage is attached to your home, be sure to keep the door closed, especially overnight when temperatures are at their lowest. Closing the garage door prevents cold air from reaching exposed pipes, which are the most likely to freeze.

Open cabinets. While we don’t recommend leaving your cabinets open regularly (this can be a safety hazard, especially for kids), leaving kitchen or bathroom cabinets open on a particularly cold night allows heated air to reach pipes that are typically covered.

Cover outdoor faucets. Exposed pipes are the most likely to freeze in the event of extreme cold weather, so it’s important to cover any outdoor faucets with insulating domes to keep cold air out of those pipes.

Have a friend or neighbor check on the house.  If you’re going on vacation during the cold winter months and are worried about pipes freezing in your absence, ask a friend, family member, or neighbor to check in on your home while you’re away. That way, if a pipe does freeze, someone will be there to take care of it before the pipe bursts, causing serious damage.

Read More: 8 Ways to Vacation-Proof Your Home

CroppMetcalfe can help you protect your home from frozen pipes.

Winter weather doesn’t have to be so scary. CroppMetcalfe is here to take care of your home all season long. If frozen pipes are giving you trouble, call 703-698-8855 to speak with a plumbing specialist or contacts us online to schedule a service appointment.


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"I've been a CroppMetcalfe customer for 9 years and you have always provided outstanding service. I just had my semi-annual maintenance done, and I wanted to thank George for the truly outstanding service, professionalism, and excellent advice. He is definitely one of the best 5-Star Technicians I've had! Thank you CroppMetcalfe!"

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