Frozen Pipes

Frozen Pipes: Why They Freeze & How to Prevent Freezing

Unfortunately if you live in a cold climate, the cold and wind will promote the freezing of residential and commercial water pipes. Listed below are some tips on freezing pipes, the where and why of the issue.

Does hot water freeze faster than the same quantity of cold water?
The answer is yes. Why and how is another issue that has baffled scientists for years. There is a theory called the Mpemba effect, which explains that the freezing of hot water is accelerated due to the type of hydrogen bonds between the water molecules. However, an exact and iron clad proof of the theory, eludes scientists to this day. For this website, let’s just accept the fact that hot water will freeze faster than cold. Ask any plumber, they will simple tell you yes hot water freezes first, without any need for the engineering or scientific reason, they have experienced it, and know it is true.

Hot vs Cold Water Pipes
One of the confusing issues with hot and cold water, is the fact that the air around a hot water pipe is warmer than the air around a cold water pipe. This environmental effect of warmer air, will make it appear that a hot water pipe freezes slower than a cold water pipe. However, in reality, this effect is only due to the ambient heating of the adjacent air around the water pipe, therefore reducing the temperature effect.

Pipes May Freeze After Many Years
Just because a water pipe does not freeze during one or two seasons of below freezing weather, does not indicate that you are in the clear. There are several factors that could increase the potential of freezing, such as wind, an open door or window, or the changing of the overall insulation value around the pipe due to a renovation, age and fatigue of the insulation, etc.

Avoid Exterior Walls for Pipes
Try to never place your water pipes on the exterior walls of the structure. The exterior walls are more susceptible to freezing temperatures, and could be more subject to air flow due to wind or cracks in the exterior siding. If it is absolutely necessary to locate the water lines on the exterior walls, try to keep them on the interior space, with ample insulation between them and the exterior surface of the outside wall.

Do not locate water lines in an overhang or soffit within the home. Any overhand or soffit will expose the water lines to more cold air than other portions of the home, and could cause freezing.

Place Water Lines in Climate Controlled Areas
Do not locate water lines in the attic or in an unheated basement area. Although the water lines probably initiate in the basement, make sure that in any areas that are not heated, the lines are well insulated from the cold.
Water lines will freeze, if they are subjected to freezing temperatures, it is as simple as that. So a very simple solution, only locate the lines in conditioned spaces that will not experience below freezing temperatures.

Shut Off Water Before Thawing
Do not panic if a water line freezes. Try to keep the line frozen until you find the water shutoff. The water will stop running out of the faucet or the toilet, or whatever fixture is tied into the water service if the line should freeze. Once the water is obviously frozen and has stopped flowing, do not thaw out the blockage, until you find the valve to shut off the water through that line. If you don’t shut the water off, and the line has expanded and broken, then you will have an uncontrolled leak occur. Always shut the water off before you thaw out the frozen portion of the line.

If you are installing a new water line, and are having a professional plumber install the line, ask them about a product called PEX. This product is a plastic tubing that will expand to ten times its diameter, prior to splitting. This enables the line to expand when it is frozen without splitting. The cost for the product is more expensive than a normal copper line, however the labor is less, and the damages of freezing lines are reduced.

Water Additives
If your are leaving a hot water heating system for any length of time in a cold environment, it is recommended that the heating system be installed with an additive that will prevent the lines from freezing. The additive is installed in the water system of the furnace, and will reduce the freezing temperature of the fluids that run through the system to distribute the heat. This is highly recommended, however, there can be no common system of domestic water and heating water due to the toxicity of the treated water.

Electrical Tape
If you have a water line that is impossible to keep warm and above freezing, then the very simple solution is to wire-tape the line with electrical heating tape. This tape is furnished with the ability to plug into the electric line to heat and keep the water line liquid. The negative issue with this situation, is that if electrical power is lost, the heat tape will turn off and become cold. Batteries can be supplied to provide a backup system to rectify this issue.

Maintain Adequate Temps Throughout Home
Do not reduce the temperature of your home to a point that will generate portions of the home that could drop below freezing. Although this is a somewhat logical comment, some individuals attempt to save their fuel by turning off the heating systems within their homes. This is not recommended, due to the very strong possibility that such an aggressive method of saving fuel, could cause some substantial damage as pipes freeze.

Outside Spigots
Even if you have frost free outside water spigots, we still suggest that you turn off the water valve leading to these outside spigots. In this manner, even if an outside spigot freezes, there will not be a flow of water to cause issues.

The bottom line to ensure that your water lines are protected from freezing, is to insulate all of the lines that could be in question. Locate all water lines on the interior walls and be cognizant of any cold spots or unheated areas of the home.

Of course, the other alternative is to move to a warm climate!!

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