Friday, February 4, 2011

Frigid Temps, Warm Ups, and Bursting Pipes- what to do if it happens to you

With the outrageously cold weather we've been experiencing here in Colorado and consecutive temps of -30 it's no surprise that pipes are starting to burst. No homeowner ever wants to deal with such a mess but sometimes it's inevitable. Here's a great article from the Chicago Tribune with tips on what to do if you find yourself as one of the victims of bursting pipes.

What to do about frozen pipes-

A quarter million American families a year have one or more rooms in their houses flooded and their lives disrupted each winter because of pipes that freeze and break, according to State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.
If a pipe freezes, act quickly but carefully to thaw the pipe before it bursts.

Using a blow dryer to heat a cold water pipe at the point of the freeze may melt a clog. Electric pipe wraps are an option. A space heater placed in front of an open vanity might thaw pipes under a sink.

Never use a torch or flame to try to melt an ice clog.

If water starts leaking from a pipe after it gets warmer, the pipe has burst from the pressure of expanding ice. You'll need to shut off the water to the broken pipe as quickly as possible to minimize water damage.

Study your water distribution system before an emergency happens so you don't waste time while your carpets are getting soaked.

Start by pinpointing the main valve that controls the flow of water through the main pipe that brings water into the house.

If you're on a public water system, the main shut-off valve will usually be inside the house on the wall closest to the street near the water meter. Some houses have meters outside on the wall near the street. If you have a well, the shut-off will be on the wall closest to the well.

Some houses built on a slab foundation rather than a basement or crawl space may have a main shut-off at the point where the water supply pipes come up through the slab.

It's a good idea to attach a tag to the valve identifying it as the main shut-off.

If you have to shut off the water to your house, turn the handle on the valve clockwise until it stops. Another way to remember the direction of the turn is to think of the way the top of the valve handle moves as you turn it: Right is tight, and left is loose.

Once you've identified the main valve, visually trace the course of the water supply pipes around your house looking for other shut-off valves. You may want to label the valves as you identify what they control.

Particularly important are the valves that control the water flow to outside hoses. As mentioned earlier, you'll use those valves to turn off the hose spigots in winter.

When a pipe bursts, shut off the nearest upstream water valve. If you can't find a valve close to the leak, shut off the main water valve.
The broken pipe will have to be soldered or replaced. You must be the judge of whether you're able to fix the pipe yourself or if you need to call a plumber.

When the break is fixed, make sure the area around the pipe gets plenty of air circulation so that nearby insulation and other building materials have a chance to dry.

Precautionary steps

It's possible to protect yourself from burst pipes if you take a few precautions. Even temperatures in the teens can freeze pipes if they are not adequately protected. Houses in colder climates are usually built to be safe from freezing pipes until temperatures sink below about 10 degrees, but in warmer climates where temperatures of 10 to 20 degrees are rare, the pipes often have less insulation and are more likely to freeze when a cold snap hits.

One of the first steps you should take to protect your pipes is to disconnect all outdoor hoses. If possible, shut off the supply to the outside tap then turn on the faucet to let any water already in the line drain out.

Pipes usually freeze where they are closest to outside walls. The most susceptible to freezing are those running through unheated areas such as crawl spaces or inside vanities on outside walls.

Once the water freezes in the pipe, the water flow will be cut off. If the blockage is not removed promptly, the ice can expand and split the pipe.

To prevent freezing, try to keep the pipes warm. Open vanities under sinks and raise the temperature in areas with exposed pipes by turning up your thermostat or using a space heater.

If pipes leading to a particular faucet often freeze, turn on the cold tap so water trickles continuously during extremely cold weather.

Insulating wraps for water pipes near outside walls can help, but a plumber may have to move pipes installed in areas that are too vulnerable to the cold.

If you leave your house for an extended time during the winter, don't turn your heating system all the way off. Set the thermostat at about 60 degrees and make sure all the storm windows are sealed tight to keep the heat in. Open the doors of all vanities so warm air circulates around the pipes under your sinks.

And as always, once you have the immediate leak under control it's time to bring in a professional. Don't try to repair any plumbing yourself. Call a 24 hour plumber or disaster company immediately. They will be able to minimize the damage done to your property and get things rolling to restore it back to it's original condition.


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