What Happens When Pipes Freeze?

Your pipes are the mainlines, or the “veins,” of your home. They help transfer vital resources throughout your rooms, to deliver your clean water supply, and steady stream of hot water. However, just like the human body, your home’s piping infrastructure requires warmth to keep its most important parts functioning.

When winter hits, and the temperatures drop, our hands begin to tremble, and reaching for the temperature gauge on the thermostat is likely the first thing on our minds. Little may we realize, as we warm ourselves up to a steady 65 degrees, we’re actually protecting our pipes, too.

If the temperature of your pipes drops below 20 degrees, it can quickly bring the water on the inside to a frozen state. Once water, in any part of your piping units, comes to a freezing point, the water will expand and begin to form a blockage. Once this critical point has been reached, the build-up in pressure can lead a series of costly, and potentially hazardous, results.

So, my pipes are frozen—what happens next?

With the pressure mounting the piping system, cracks can begin to form in their surfaces. If a crack occurs, not only will there be a substantial loss of water, but the associated risk of flooding. Water damage can, of course, lead to the destruction of expensive property, as well as structural damage and costly repair bills down the road.

If there is no one at home when the crisis occurs, the results can be dastardly—so, intervention and prevention should always be at the forefront of your mind. For those of you in hotter climates, it’s easy to be deceived about the state of the insulation of your pipes.

Homes in colder climates tend to be better insulated from the foundations, so if you’re lucky enough to live in a warmer spot in the US, you might have to take extra precautions to future-proof your home, especially in the colder months. You can insulate your pipes with a layer of foam padding or a thermal insulating tape. It is also a good idea to seal up any cracks in your home’s large structure with some plaster.

But my pipes really are frozen, and cracked, what should my next steps be?

If worse comes to worst, we’ve put together some simple steps to deal with the emergency of a crack in your pipe, inspired by recommendations from the team at State Farm:

  1. Are your faucets blocked? If yes, you’re going to want to call your local plumbing service, like J&C Plumbing, to ensure the right expertise is at the ready, as you move forward.
  2. Have your faucets burst? You’ll still need your plumber on-hand, but first, be sure to shut off the water supply at the mains. Let your loved ones know that a pipe has cracked, frozen, or burst, and show them where your main valve shut-off is. Everyone should be able to shut it off, should any other issues arise.
  3. What do I do while I wait for my plumber to arrive? It may be tempting to try your hand at thawing out your pipes, if they are still at an early stage of being blocked, but there are a few things to be aware of:
  4. Never use electrics in standing water, due to the risk of electric shock.
  5. Never attempt to thaw pipes with a torch or open source of flame.
  6. If you want to do anything, and the leak is minor enough to access safely, applying a small amount of heat, at a reasonable distance from the pipes, may help to soften the blockage.

When in doubt, wait it out.

Your plumber should arrive within a reasonable time frame from your first call. Be sure to let them know that if you are experiencing a plumbing emergency, so they may prioritize your case in a timely fashion.

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