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Cold Weather and Frozen Pipes

by: Darin "Sid" Cameron

Cold weather is a big problem for home and property owners- especially if you've moved and your home is setting empty. Why? PLUMBING!

If your home gets too cold, the water in your pipes can freeze overnight and then burst in the day when it warms back up. This leaves the potential for extensive flooding and water damage to your home. The pipes you need to be most concerned about are those that have the most exposure to the cold -- outdoor hose faucets, swimming pool supply lines, underground sprinkler systems, and plumbing in unheated basements, crawl spaces, attics and garages. Pipes that run against exterior walls are also at risk.

What to do...

When it's cold outside, you should periodically check all the faucets in your home. If it doesn't work or water is just a trickle you may have frozen water in your pipes. Attempt to locate the frozen area by looking in the area most likely to freeze- i.e. the coldest. Use a heat lamp, space heater, hair dryer or electrical heat pad to begin to thaw out the pipes. Remember to keep the faucet open as you work. That's because running water will help melt the ice faster. Apply heat until full water pressure is restored, then consider going to your neighborhood hardware store to purchase insulation for the areas of the pipe that froze (to help prevent it from happening again).

DO NOT use any sort of blow torch or open flame to warm the pipes. I can not stress this enough, so let me say it again. DO NOT use an open flame. First off, an open flame is a fire hazard and if you are working in a confined area there is a threat of carbon monoxide poisoning. Every year there is a story in the news of some person burning down their home or suffocating themselves to death while working on frozen pipes.

The second reason not to use an open flame is if it gets too hot you can melt your pipes (especially PVC plastic pipes). Third, too much heat too quickly creates the potential for an explosion. That's because water expands as it gets hot. A blow torch or other device will cause the water to boil, and boiling water trapped in the middle of a frozen pipe has no place to expand- so it explodes.

The last piece of advice is always the best... If you fail to unthaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber before the pipe breaks.

How to keep it from happening...

- Your home should have inside valves on your outdoor water supply lines. Close them, then open the outside faucet and let the water drain. Leave the outside faucet open all winter.

- Drain and store outside garden hoses.

- If you haven't already done so, drain the water from your swimming pool and lawn sprinkler system. As mentioned above, insulate plumbing that's most susceptible to freezing. You can find supplies at your local hardware store, Home Depot, or Lowes.

- During severe cold weather, let the faucets drip. Although it's no guarantee, even a trickle of water can help prevent pipes from freezing and an open faucet gives the water someplace to run once it starts to warm up.

- Keep the home temperature set to no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. I know it's tempting to turn the thermostat down when you leave town for a few weeks or if you have an unsold home that is setting empty, but the higher heat bill is quickly offset by the cost of repairing a pipe and cleaning up water damage.

- Lastly, if you experience flooding or water damage from a broken pipe, be sure to watch the home for mold or mildew. Black mold can be a serious after effect to a flooded home that's far worse to deal with than the actual water damage.

About The Author

Darin "Sid" Cameron currently works for the STLagent Team of Real Estate Consultants in St Louis, MO. He publishes The St Louis Real Estate Blog on his website at: STLagent.com.

Mr. Cameron also moderates the St Louis Community Forum Message Board at: STLagent.com's Forum.

STLagent.com 2005

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