Why Pipes Freeze and Burst in the Winter
There are several types of water pipes in a typical home or commercial establishment. Newer homes built within the past 20 years are more likely to have plastic freshwater supply lines. The plastic material is moderately resistant to freezing, but once it does freeze, it bursts easily. Copper water supply lines were commonly used in the mid-twentieth century and are still frequently found in homes and businesses. These supply lines are setup with either 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch piping. The smaller the piping, the quicker it freezes.
The OLDER homes in the area, pre-1900 to about 1950, have cast iron pipes. If you have an older home with a boiler heating system, you have radiators like the ones pictured. These radiators are supplied with hot water through cast iron piping that circles the perimeter of the house. If the boiler ever fails, these pipes are vulnerable to freezing. One remedy for this is the injection of glycol antifreeze into the system. Check your system to make sure it is adequately protected.
When pipes get cold, ice crystals can form inside the pipes, causing them to force a water blockage. If the pipes freeze solid, also known as a “hard” freeze, the ice crystals will expand inside the pipe, causing a split or rupture. It doesn't matter what kind of piping it is, if the water freezes completely inside the piping, it WILL burst.
When the water supply is on, it is pressurized (which is why water comes out when you turn on a faucet.) Once a pipe bursts, water will gush out, causing damage to walls, insulation, flooring, and valuable personal property. For every minute water is running through a fresh water pipe, it will spew out 3-5 gallons of water. That is about 200 gallons an hour! You can see how little time it takes water to do a tremendous amount of damage to your property.
If you do discover frozen pipes before a burst has occurred take the following precautions.
- Turn the water supply OFF. It is usually a lever or knob coming up from a water supply pipe coming up into your home.
- Turn your furnace up to 75 degrees.
- Open all faucet valves, hot and cold.
- Put fans around the house to circulate warm air, directing the warm air into areas where the piping may be frozen.
- If necessary, place space heaters in the frozen areas.
Turn on the water supply briefly for a few minutes - enough time to check the faucets to see if they are running. If not, turn off the water supply and try again once an hour.
If you have a burst pipe, do NOT leave the water on. Call SERVPRO of The Twin Ports to get immediate assistance in dealing with the residual moisture.
If you see water where it should not be, it IS an emergency situation. SERVPRO of The Twin Ports is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to respond to any emergency in the Duluth-Superior area.