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The Real Reason Pipes Burst in Winter

If you live in an area where temperatures fall below freezing during the winter, you’re at risk of frozen plumbing. Not only do frozen pipes interfere with your access to water, but they can burst and cause a great deal of damage to your home.

You may be wondering: What exactly causes frozen plumbing to burst? Will every pipe that freezes eventually break? Is there any way to prevent freezing? By understanding the answers to each of these questions, you can keep your home safe and even save some money.

What Causes Pipes To Freeze?

What freezes at 32 degrees, which is why ice and snow are a staple during the winter. However, you may wonder why that matters for your pipes. After all, they’re inside your house, which is likely well-heated.

Unfortunately, a cozy indoor temperature doesn’t always translate to defrosted plumbing. Waterlines running from your house to the city’s water supply may be at risk if the cold penetrates deeply into the ground. The plumbing inside your walls may also face freezing if your home isn’t well-insulated.

How Can You Tell If Your Pipes Are Frozen?

Frozen pipes can happen overnightand catch you off-guard, especially if freezing temperatures weren’t in the forecast. However, it’s unlikely your entire plumbing system will freeze solid in one night; instead, different sections of plumbing tend to freeze at different times, trapping water in between. This means you have some time to address the issue before permanent damage is done.

Once the weather gets cold, make sure to look for the following warning signs:

  • Reduced water pressure

  • Coat of frost on pipes

  • Strange or bad smell coming from the drain or faucet

What Causes Bursting?

Unlike most other liquids, water expands when it freezes. This is due to its unique molecular makeup, which changes structure when it becomes solid. As water becomes ice, it puts more and more pressure on the pipe.

However, bursting isn’t caused by the initial expansion, but by the resulting blockages. Over time, water pressure builds between the blockages and the closed faucet. Once that trapped water freezes, the pressure becomes unbearable and something has to give — your pipes.

What Happens After a Pipe Bursts?

You may not know you have burst pipes until they start to thaw. Since ice is solid, it effectively seals any leaks or cracks caused by its expansion. Once it melts, however, that air-tight seal is broken and water can escape.

As soon as that water is free, it can cause major damage, especially if the burst pipe is inside your walls. Not only may you notice a jump in utility bills, but you may also have to deal with damage such as the following:

  • Rot

  • Warping or bulging walls or ceiling

  • Bubbling paint

  • Mildew

  • Mold

How Can You Prevent Freezing?

The best way to ensure your pipes don’t burst is to prevent them from freezing in the first place. There are a few tried-and-true ways to do so:

  • Keep your home well-heated

  • Keep a faucet at a steady drip to keep water moving through the plumbing

  • Open under-sink cabinets to ensure warm air is reaching the plumbing

  • Insulate pipes with heat tape or other suitable materials, especially plumbing in colder areas of the house such as crawlspaces or attics

  • If you think a pipe is frozen, warm it with a hairdryer

Do you suspect to have a burst pipe in your home? The experts at Adam & Eve Plumbing can help. For over 25 years, we’ve assisted homeowners in the Girard area with everything from burst plumbing to garbage disposal installation to drain cleaning. For more information on our services, give us a call at 330-539-9301 or contact us online.

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