Non-weather related water damage is the second most common insurance claim made by homeowners. The biggest component of "non-weather" is plumbing, specifically when a pipe has the potential to freeze and burst
WHEN DO PIPES FREEZE?
We all know water freezes at 32 degrees fahrenheit, but for the water in your pipes to freeze, the outdoor temperature typically needs to be 20 degrees fahrenheit. Of course, the exact conditions for risk of frozen pipes will vary from home to home. Surprisignly, hot water pipes are actually more susceptible to freezing than cold water pipes! This is due to the Mpemba Effect.
(The Mpemba Effect in action as boiling water freezes in sub-zero temperatures.)
CONDITIONS FOR PIPES TO BURST
Frozen pipes are a problem by themselves because they prevent water flow, but even worse, frozen pipes can eventually burst, causing damage and potential flooding. Below are some of the conditions that contribute to froze pipes bursting and cause significant damage.
Surprisingly, copper pipes are more likely to burst than plastic, although both will freeze. Copper is a good conductor which means the heat traveling in the pipe can be lost rapidly.
The National Association of Water Companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that nearly half of all pipes in the U.S. are in poor shape. Corrosion is the second most frequent cause of pipe failure, not only being a cause for slow leaks, but when water freezes and expands it can exert a pressure of up to 2,000psi. This amount of pressure in an old or corroded pipe is likely to burst it within hours.
Southern climates tend to see more pipes burst than Northern climates. Due to warmer temperatures year round, plumbing systems are generally installed without consideration for protective insulation when temperatures do drop.
PREVENTION + RECOVERY
You know the saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." When the forecast shows temperature well below 32 degrees, we highly recommend you take the following steps to prevent your pipes from freezing and busting.
Keep a Faucet Open
In cold weather conditions, keep a faucet open, this will allow a slow drip which reduces pressure on the pipes. If you suspect a pipe is already frozen, this allows an opening for water to travel during the thawing process.Insulation for Pipes
Just like humans, when pipes are exposed to freezing temperatures they will get cold. Something as simple as foam insulation can be acquired from your local home improvement store and costs no more than $3 for a 6' section.
What To Do When Your Pipe Does Freeze
If you suspect your pipes are frozen, it is important to act quickly. Some of the signs of frozen pipes include lack of running water, visible frost on the pipes, and odors coming from the drains. If you notice any of these signs, see if you can locate the pipe that is frozen.
Thawing a Frozen Pipe
If you are able to easily access the blockage, such as a pipe under a kitchen sink, you might be able to thaw the blockage for free using a hair dryer or hot rags. Never use an open flame - no matter how much fun it sounds.Turn off Main Water Line
If your pipes have frozen and burst immediately locate your main water line and shut it off. Hopefully this will minimize the damage, but depending on the location and how quickly you caught the leak you may be face with significant damage to your home and plumbing.
Recovering From Frozen and Busted Pipes
Even if your homeowner's policy does cover damage caused by a burst water pipe, it may not cover the cost of replacing the actual section of damaged pipe. We highly recommend you talk with your insurance agent to understand your exact coverage in the event of frozen and busted pipes.
Another option to protect yourself from the costs of frozen and busted pipes is the IGS UtilityShield program. It is a low cost option that covers many of the gaps in typical homeowner's policies.