Preventing Frozen Pipe and Drain Issues - Essential Tips

Frozen Pipe & Drain Prevention

When water freezes in pipes, it undergoes expansion, potentially leading to pipe bursts and obstructed water flow. This situation can escalate quickly, resulting in significant water damage. Understanding the dynamics of frozen pipes is crucial; as water turns to ice, the increased pressure can compromise the integrity of the plumbing system. This process can cause leaks or even catastrophic pipe failures, leading to costly repairs and water damage in homes and buildings. It's vital to take preventive measures against freezing and to act swiftly if signs of frozen pipes appear.

Why Pipes Burst

Surprisingly, ice forming in a pipe does not typically cause a break where the ice blockage occurs. It's not the radial expansion of ice against the wall of the pipe that causes the break. Rather, following a complete ice blockage in a pipe, continued freezing and expansion inside the pipe causes water pressure to increase downstream -- between the ice blockage and a closed faucet at the end. It's this increase in water pressure that leads to pipe failure.

Usually, the pipe bursts where little or no ice has formed. Upstream from the ice blockage, the water can always retreat towards its source, so there is no pressure build-up to cause a break. Water has to freeze for ice blockages to occur. Pipes that are adequately protected along their entire length by placement within the building's insulation, insulation on the pipe itself, or heating, are safe.

Leave the heating on

One of the main causes of frozen pipes is switching the heating off completely when your holiday home is left empty. While this will save money in terms of fuel bills, it will expose your home to sub-zero winter temperatures and the expense of repairing damage should pipes burst. Most modern heating systems that are common in holiday cottages can still operate with the mains water turned off. A qualified plumber should be able to give you advice about this.

Keeping the heating on will help prevent water still in the pipes from freezing, as water is continuously flowing. It is recommended to leave the heating permanently on (at least 13 degrees C), especially during cold snaps.

Letting the Water Run

Letting a faucet drip during extreme cold weather can prevent a pipe from bursting. It's not that a small flow of water prevents freezing; this helps, but water can freeze even with a slow flow. Rather, opening a faucet will provide relief from the excessive pressure that builds between the faucet and the ice blockage when freezing occurs. If there is no excessive water pressure, there is no burst pipe, even if the water inside the pipe freezes.

A dripping faucet wastes some water, so only pipes vulnerable to freezing (ones that run through an unheated or unprotected space) should be left with the water flowing. The drip can be very slight. Even the slowest drip at normal pressure will provide pressure relief when needed. Where both hot and cold lines serve a spigot, make sure each one contributes to the drip, since both are subjected to freezing.

If the dripping stops, leave the faucet(s) open since a pipe may have frozen and will still need pressure relief.

If You Suspect a Frozen Pipe

If you open a faucet and no water comes out, don't take any chances. Call a plumber. If a water pipe bursts, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve (usually at the water meter or where the main line enters the house); leave the faucet(s) open until repairs are completed.

Don't try to thaw a frozen pipe with an open flame; as this will damage the pipe and may even start a building fire. You might be able to thaw a pipe with a hand-held hair dryer. Slowly apply heat, starting close to the faucet end of the pipe, with the faucet open. Work toward the coldest section.

Don't use electrical appliances while standing in water; you could get electrocuted.

Going on a Trip

When away from the house for an extended period during the winter, be careful how much you lower the heat. A lower temperature may save on the heating bill, but there could be a disaster if a cold spell strikes and pipes that normally would be safe, freeze and burst.

A solution is to drain the water system. This is the best safeguard. With no water in the pipes, there is no freezing. This remedy should be considered even when the homeowner is not leaving but is concerned about a serious overnight freeze. To drain the system, shut off the main valve and turn on every water fixture (both hot and cold lines) until water stops running. It's not necessary to leave the fixtures open, since the system is filled mostly with air at that point and not subject to freezing. When returning to the house, turn on the main valve and let each fixture run until the pipes are full again.

Source: Institute for Business and Home Safety. IBHS is a national nonprofit initiative of the insurance industry to reduce deaths, injuries, property damage, economic losses, and human suffering caused by natural disasters.

  • At the moment we are no longer offering any waterline dethawing service due to city and insurance demands.

    The method of dethawing a pipe is by adding electricity to the water line which causes a risk of fire in the walls. This procedure is no longer recommended by the city and by our insurance company.

    The only advise we provide our customers is to increase the heating in there home and try to localize the area which caused the waterline to freeze and add a heat within that area.

    After the waterline unfreezes, if you notice water leaks please contact us to schedule an appointment to fix the leakage at 514-316-1043.

    Please read below for tips to help with frozen waterlines.

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