Why Are Frozen Pipes So Dangerous?

November 11, 2020

As a homeowner, you’re probably no stranger to the threat of frozen pipes. You’ve probably heard all about how a single frozen pipe could be extremely dangerous to your home, and that you need to do everything you can to prevent it from happening. In fact, a good chunk of your home’s winterization process each year probably consists of insulating exposed plumbing lines in order to prevent your pipes from freezing over. However, why do you go through all of this trouble? And if you aren’t, why should you be?

This blog has the answer to these all-important questions: why are frozen pipes so dangerous and what can happen if they freeze over? We’ll take a look at some of the things that can happen and some things you can do to prevent this serious issue from coming up for you.

What Happens When Your Pipes Freeze?

Water is a unique substance in a lot of ways. One of the most important ways it is unique is that unlike most other substances, it expands when it freezes. Most objects grow smaller and smaller as their atomic energy decreases, but water actually grows and takes up more space. This can be easily demonstrated by freezing a brand new water bottle—when you pull it out of the freezer, the bottom of the bottle will be bulged outward due to water’s expansion during freezing.

However, this same expansion is what makes frozen pipes so dangerous. As water freezes, it needs space to expand into. When it expands, fills any available space it can. However, if that space runs out, water doesn’t simply stop expanding—it forces its way into more space. That means the pressure of water expanding will push against the walls of your plumbing with what could be a tremendous amount of force. Eventually, when combined with the fact that most materials become brittle as they get colder, the pipe’s structural integrity fails and the pipe itself bursts.

But wait, if the water inside a pipe is frozen, why does a burst pipe matter? Simple: because in many cases a burst pipe will create a pressure release that allows frozen or mostly-frozen water to start spilling out. And if that particular pipe is under a reasonable amount of water pressure, the water could start spilling out quickly. That could create a flooding situation, where your yard could turn into a wet, soggy, or even icy mess if the temperature outside is still below freezing.

Even if conditions are still freezing, the line will eventually thaw, and the water will start pouring out when it does. And when water starts flooding your property, your foundation, flooring, and even the structural integrity of your home could all be at risk. This is absolutely a plumbing emergency, and it’s one that isn’t always easy to fix. If the pipe that has burst is inside your walls (yes, that can happen, then you’ll have to completely tear apart your wall to fix the issue, and that means a labor-intensive and expensive repair.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

How can you prevent frozen pipes from disrupting your winter? The easiest way is to protect them from freezing with proper insulation. Pipe insulation is a type of closed-cell foam designed to completely envelop exposed pipelines. It is typically sold in six-foot lengths at just about any hardware store, and is easily installed in just a few minutes with no special tools and just a roll of heavy-duty tape, such as duct tape. Be sure you completely cover any exposed lines, and always make sure you buy insulation that’s the right size—the wrong size won’t protect your pipes appropriately, and they could still freeze.

But not all exposed plumbing fixtures are pipes. What can you do about the taps and spigots that may be positioned outdoors? For these, we recommend insulating covers. These plastic covers are designed to be fastened to a tap and then pulled tight so that the cover securely seals against a wall. This prevents the temperature around the tap from ever reaching freezing levels, thus keeping the tap intact and the water inside from freezing. Be sure not to overlook your outdoor taps—they’re an all-too-common source of burst pipes every winter.

In addition to insulating your pipes, on nights where temperatures are expected to reach freezing levels, we recommend allowing your indoor faucets and taps to slowly drip. This keeps the water in your lines moving, which in turn prevents the water from freezing. Moving water doesn’t freeze as easily as still water does, so this is a great way to protect your indoor plumbing lines as well.

If you find yourself dealing with frozen pipes this winter, don’t hesitate to call Winters® Home Services at 617-221-5899 for immediate assistance!