After the bitter cold we’ve suffered in Missouri the past week, many people are discovering frozen pipes in their homes or businesses. Unfortunately, some are discovering them after the pipes burst, and they call CATCO or other local restoration companies for help with the ensuing water damage.
But if pipes are frozen and haven’t yet burst, what can you do?
You know you don’t have water in one faucet, a section of your home or the whole house. Use that info to help determine where the pipe might be frozen. Feel the pipes where you suspect the freeze. Of course, they’ll be very cold. This usually first occurs in sections of a building that aren’t well heated or insulated, such as a crawl space, an outer wall or between floors going to an upstairs bathroom. Sometimes the freeze can be right at the meter coming into the building.
Once you feel fairly certain where the freeze occurred, make sure you locate any valves to that area. You’ll want to know this before you proceed; if something bursts, you’ll need to act fast to turn off the water. If you have shutoff valves throughout the home, you may be able to just turn off a valve before that frozen bathroom supply line rather than the main supply valve. Some experts advise also shutting off the water supply going to that section first, to prevent the pressure behind the thawing pipe from bursting through.
Open any cabinets near the frozen area to allow warm air from the house to warm the pipes. Clear any items blocking air flow inside any cabinets. With the proper air flow, a frozen pipe can thaw itself given time, but if the cold continues and you’re concerned it may grow worse, you can gently heat the pipe to speed thawing.
You may want to use a space heater directing warm air into the cabinet, but please take extra care. Don’t place it in the cabinet, and never place a space heater or heat lamp directly under a frozen pipe, whether in a closed area or an open basement. (If it bursts or leaks, the water can short out the unit and cause a fire hazard. Do not use un-grounded electrical appliances outdoors, or near grounded water pipes.
When thawing pipes, the key is to gently heat them. Do not use a blow torch or boiling water. If thawing with a heat lamp or hair dryer always work from an open faucet toward the frozen area. This will keep steam from being trapped by ice and bursting the pipe. With the faucet open, you can see when the ice has melted. Once it’s partially thawed, keep the faucet open until you have attained regular pressure and water flow.
If your pipes do burst, quickly shut off the water to that section, even if it means turning off the main supply valve. (Note, ahead of time, homeowners and building managers should always clearly mark main shut off valves before something like this happens so that anyone on hand can turn them off.) Get the pipe repaired as soon as possible. (Whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer or you call your plumber, handyman or whomever can get to you quickly, remember others will be having the same issue, and you may have a wait). If the water damage is small and localized, you may be able to handle it yourself. Be sure to wipe up or extract any standing water first, using a water rated shop vac, carpet extractor or mop. If there are kick plates or baseboards at the affected wall, carefully remove them to allow air to access the lower portion of the wall. Setting up fans and dehumidifiers in the affected room can help dry out small water problems quickly.
But if the affected area includes finished, insulated walls and covers more area than a small section, call in a restoration company to professionally mitigate the damage. Remember, your insurance company may cover water damage, but they may not cover mold remediation if the work isn’t done promptly or properly. To learn more about how a professional can help, go to https://www.catcoinc.com/services/cleaning-division/water-damage-restoration for more information.
To prevent pipes from freezing in the first place, make sure all sections of exterior walls around pipes are insulated. You can also wrap electrical heating cable around pipes, but only use one turn every two feet, then cover the pipe with insulation to conserve the heat. Follow all directions on the heating cable and take special care not to overlap the cable. Plug in the cable when the temperatures drops below freezing. In extreme weather, open cabinets to allow warm air to flow near pipes behind them whenever possible. (Remove any chemicals or cleaning products from the reach of small children or pets.) You should also open faucets in suspect areas to a trickle during bitter cold, as moving water doesn’t freeze as readily.
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