FACT SHEET: FROZEN/BROKEN WATER PIPES

IDPH February 2007

 

Why Pipe Freezing Is a Problem

Water is unique in that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. Pipes in unheated interior areas, especially those that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation are subject to freezing.

 

To Prevent Pipes from Freezing in Unheated Homes

Heat loss during the winter can lead to extremely cold temperatures in your home.  To reduce the chance of frozen/broken water pipes, take the following steps:

· Shut off the main water supply line coming into the home.  This is usually in the basement.  The valve will likely be a lever or a round handle.  Levers should be turned 90° to turn off the water flow.  Handles should be turned clock-wise until water flow stops.

· Wrap towels, blankets, or other insulating materials around the water supply line to help insulate it from the cold.

· Fully open all water fixtures in the home (sinks, showers, tubs, etc), starting in the highest room of the house moving to the lowest room in the house.  The water heater is usually the lowest water fixture in the home. 

· After draining the water heater turn off the power source (electricity or gas) to avoid damage to the unit.

· Before opening the lowest water fixture, be sure to have a place to drain the water to.  You may need to use a hose or bucket to direct the water to a floor drain.  Leave all fixtures open after water has been drained.

· After water has been shut off and drained, all toilets in the home should be flushed multiple times until water empties the tank and bowl.  Some water will remain in the bowl, but should not cause damage if it freezes.

· When heat returns to the home be sure to leave all fixtures fully open (except the water heater drain should be closed) before turning the water main on. 

· When turning the water main back on, proceed SLOWLY to allow the water to safely fill the water pipes.  Once water flow is established to all water fixtures you can turn the fixtures off.

 

To Thaw Frozen Pipes

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe.  Locate the suspected frozen area of the water pipe. Likely places include pipes running against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.

· Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area and will help melt more ice in the pipe.

· Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, or wrap pipes with towels soaked in hot water. BE SURE the pipe is not broken and that there is no water near electrical devices.

· DO NOT use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove or other open flame device. A blowtorch can make water in a frozen pipe boil and cause the pipe to explode. Open flames in homes present a serious fire danger and risk of exposure to carbon monoxide.

· Apply heat to the pipe until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible or if you can not thaw the pipe, call a licensed or qualified plumber.

 

Dealing with Broken Pipes

If you find a broken water pipe you need to take immediate steps to minimize water damage to your home.

· First, make sure the main water supply coming into the home is turned off.

· If the broken water pipe is still frozen and begins to thaw, wrap the broken pipe in towels to absorb water leaking from the pipe.

· Call a licensed or qualified plumber to repair the damaged pipe.

· If water from the broken pipe has leaked into your home, immediately remove any water soaked materials that you can (carpeting, clothing, furniture, etc) to minimize the risk of mold growth. 

· Walls, framing, and flooring materials that are saturated will need to be assessed for structural integrity by a qualified contractor.

· Any porous, non-cleanable surfaces (drywall, insulation, carpeting, padding, etc.) that have been saturated with water should be discarded as soon as possible and replaced with new material AFTER the area has fully dried.  This will minimize the risk of mold growth.