The science behind a burst pipe is simple - when water freezes, it expands. Have you ever put a drink in your freezer during the summer, thinking you're being smart and chilling it faster, only to forget about it and have it burst inside your freezer? Well the same thing applies to the pipes running throughout your property.
The Anatomy of a Frozen Pipe
Did you know that a frozen pipe does not typically burst right where the ice buildup occurs? It's not the ice buildup that causes the pipe to burst - rather it's the continued freezing that forces water pressure downward towards the closed faucet at the end. So when you pipe bursts, it's most likely going to burst near the faucet inside your property.
Generally speaking, properties in this area should be build in a manner where pipes that carry water are located on the inside of the building insulation, which protects them from freezing temperatures. But, frigid temperatures or holes in the building structure that allow freezing air to come in contact with those pipes can still lead to frozen pipes.
So, when is your property most at risk for frozen pipes? Based on studies conducted by the Building Research Council at the University of Illinois, residential water systems run a high risk of freezing when the outside temperature falls to 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
Tips for Avoiding Frozen Pipes
- Seal cracks and holes in outside walls to keep cold air away from pipes
- Keep kitchen and bathroom cabinets open during cold spells. Keeping cabinets that contain pipes closed prevents the warm air in your home to reach the pipes.
- Contact a professional to install insulation around pipes that you think are extremely vulnerable to freezing.
- Allow faucets to drip during cold weather. Opening your faucet slightly can allow a release up pressure in the pipe that occurs when ice buildup is moving that pressure down towards your faucet. If there is no pressure, there is no burst pipe, even if the water inside that pipe is freezing. And a frozen pipe is better than a burst pipe!
- If going away for a period of time or you are concerned about an especially cold pattern of weather, consider draining your system. This can be done by shutting off the main water valve in your property and turning on every water fixture, both hot and cold, until no water comes out.
If you suspect a frozen pipe or you open a faucet and no water comes out, don't take any chances. Contact your professional plumber immediately.