Protect your pipes from cold weather

Even though insurance agencies and home contractors often release statements this time of year alerting home owners to take precautions to protect their pipes from freezing, I’m sometimes stunned by some home owners’ lack of knowledge about the subject. If not taken seriously, extensive damage could occur in a home due to a frozen or ruptured pipe.

A common misconception that many have about cold weather’s effects on pipes is that the frozen water inside the pipe causes the rupture. However, it’s not the ice, per se, that makes a pipe burst; but rather the pressure that builds inside the pipe that makes it rupture. When a pipe freezes, excessive air pressure builds up between the ice blockage and a closed faucet.

Experts describe ice buildup in pipes, which can occur through contact with cooled air, as being more common than people know. In extreme weather situations, precautions should be taken to help prevent frozen and ruptured pipes. Besides temperature, wind chill is sometimes the culprit of freezing pipes; holes in walls or foundations can allow chilled air to come into contact with your home’s interior- including pipes. Depending on the pipe placement and weather conditions, pipes can freeze any time the temperature dips below freezing; however, extra precautions should be taken when the weather becomes extreme.

Common precautions used to prevent freezing and bursting pipes include insulating pipes, “the dripping faucet,” and “winterizing.” Some experts suggest that insulating pipes may prevent a frozen or ruptured pipe- but it is not a guarantee. Pipe insulation can vary by type and price; foam sleeves or fiberglass jackets are most commonly used. The materials in the sleeves and jackets insulate pipes from cold air much like the insulation in your home’s walls and attic insulates home’s interior from cold air.

In extreme weather, the “dripping faucet” is one of the most commonly used methods by home owners to prevent a busted pipe. The water drip may not stop a pipe from freezing; however, it can relieve some pressure from the system to prevent a pipe from rupturing in case freezing does occur.

“Winterizing” is a term used to describe the draining of water and pressure from the plumbing system. Experts recommend winterizing your home if you plan an extended winter trip, leaving your home vacant. Winterizing and de-winterizing your home can put additional stress on your home’s plumbing system and components, so hiring a plumber to perform this procedure is recommended.

Short overnight trips may not require you to winterize your home, however experts caution that lowering the thermostat overnight could put your pipes in jeopardy.

Pipes can still freeze or rupture even when you take precautions. If you have a frozen pipe- call your plumber. Opening faucets can reduce air pressure in the system so as to prevent a rupture. Your plumber should guide you on how to thaw the frozen pipe, since you should be cautious for obvious reasons. However, homeowners have often used hair dryers to lamps to thaw frozen pipes. Finding a frozen pipe can be tricky since pipes are often hidden inside walls and between floors. If a pipe does burst, close the main water valve immediately and call your plumber immediately.

Additional information about protecting your home from frozen or ruptured pipes can be obtained from your plumber and/or insurance agent.

by Dan Krell
© 2010

Comments are welcome. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Keep an Eye on Your Pipes

by Dan Krell
Google+

Whether you own an old home or a new home, maintenance is the key to keep your home in top condition. Obviously older homes require a different level of maintenance compared to a new home. However, no matter how old your home may be, you want to keep an eye on your pipes.

If your home was built in the early part of last century, your pipes could be lead or galvanized steel. Lead pipes have the tendency to leach lead in your drinking water. Since lead has been identified as a hazardous material, it is not an ideal for indoor water delivery. Because of the inherent dangers, most lead pipes have already been replaced; however if you still have lead pipes in your home, you should consider having the pipes replaced. You can access a wealth of information about lead at the EPA website: www.EPA.gov/lead.

Another type of pipe used in older homes is galvanized steel pipes. Steel pipes that were used at the time had a tendency to rust, so the thought was that by galvanizing the steel pipes rust on the outside of the pipes would be inhibited. The problem that developed was that galvanized steel pipes rust from the inside out. The rust builds up on the inside and consequently reduces water pressure. Additionally, these pipes have had a history of leaking and bursting. As a result, some insurance companies will not underwrite a home with galvanized plumbing.

Many homes built in the 1980’s and early 1990’s had plumbing with polybutylene pipes. Polybutylene was supposed to be the pipe of the future, as it was inexpensive and easy to install. Polybutylene pipes have had a checkered past as they have a history of leaking and bursting. The problem stemmed a class action suite against Shell, the manufacturer of the polybutylene resin used in these pipes. Although polybutylene pipes are no longer being installed, many homes continue to use these pipes as the internal water delivery system. If you have polybutylene pipes, you can get more information about the class action suite, replacing the pipes and other information at www.pbpipe.com.

Presently, the most common source of water delivery in the home is through copper and PVC pipes. Although considered reliable and safe, copper and PVC pipes have had their problems as well. Copper pipes can develop pinhole leaks; locally, WSSC has been researching this problem for a solution (www.wssc.dst.md.us/copperpipe/pinholescroll.cfm). Additionally, lead solder used to connect the pipes can leach lead into the water; new lead free solder is now being used to eliminate this problem. Alternatively, PVC pipe is cheap, easy to install, and durable; however, there is some controversy that surrounds PVC as it is associated with a carcinogen, dioxin, which is released when PVC is produced and if it is incinerated.

No matter what type of pipe is in your home, general maintenance can minimize potential problems. You should know the location of the main water shut-off valves; periodically inspect pipes for leakage; make sure all plumbing fixtures are firmly secured; outdoor faucets should be shut off from the interior and drained; and be sure pipes in areas such as crawl spaces are protected from freezing. For more specific safety and maintenance information regarding your pipes, you can contact the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (www.phccweb.org).

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally pubished in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of 1/8/2007. Copyright © 2007 Dan Krell.