When temperatures start to drop below freezing, the risk of frozen water pipes begins to build. Frozen pipes are particularly troublesome, as they are often unseen in basements or crawlspaces – but as the frozen water expands, it can destroy valves, crack pipes, and burst joints, creating serious leaking or flooding problems. Mold and mildew issues often follow even after the leaks have stopped, creating even more headaches.
It’s far better to prevent frozen pipes in the first place, and that brings us to our handy FAQ on frozen pipes in your house, how frozen pipes burst, and what you should do if the worst happens.
At What Temperature Does Water Freeze?
Under normal conditions, water will freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The lower the temperature drops after that, the more likely that water inside pipes will freeze. Temperatures will be lowest during the night. Keep in mind, the temperature readings outside and the temperature in your pipes can differ considerably depending on factors like home insulation, where the pipe is, and what materials the pipe is made of. Some pipes are more at risk for freezing than others.
How Long Does It Take for Water to Freeze?
That depends! If you put water in an ice cube tray and place it in the freezer, it should be fully frozen in around two hours. Water in your pipes is not being exposed to direct temperatures that low, so it takes more time. Generally, it will take about six hours for your pipes to freeze when it’s around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The time may be decreased for especially vulnerable pipes. Above 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s a lot less likely that home pipes freeze, but it can still occasionally happen.
Since it takes several hours of inactivity for a freeze to set in, it’s no surprise that pipes tend to freeze overnight or when owners are on vacation. Your first sign that pipes have frozen may be turning on the water in the morning and seeing nothing but a trickle come from your faucets.
Do Frozen Pipes Always Burst?
They do not. Bursting implies a serious rupture at a joint or crack that causes a major leak. This doesn’t always happen, although ice can create other problems like blockages and valve damage that don’t outright burst the pipe.
This can also depend on pipe materials. PVC, PEX, and similar materials can experience damage when frozen, but bursting is less likely. Copper piping, on the other hand, may be particularly vulnerable to damage from expanding ice.
How Long Does It Take for Pipes to Unfreeze?
That depends on how quickly it warms up outside. If temperatures rise significantly during the day, then it could take six to twelve hours for pipes to fully thaw out. If temperatures stay well below freezing, they may not thaw out at all.
Owners can speed up the thawing process considerably by using space heaters, hairdryers, and warmers on exposed pipes. However, if pipes have already burst, this is a bad first step because it only encourages further leaking.
How to Keep Pipes from Freezing
If pipes in your neighborhood or home have frozen before, it’s important to take precautions to prevent the possibility in the future. Effective methods include:
- If weather predictions indicate temperatures well below freezing, set your cold water taps to a slight drip or trickle overnight. The moving water will prevent the pipes from freezing.
- Open cabinet doors in your bathrooms and kitchen to allow the warmer air in your house easier access to your pipes.
- Raise your indoor thermostat to a higher temperature for the night. The extra heat will seep into the parts of your house where your pipe systems are and help prevent freezing. This will raise your energy bills if you do it repeatedly but keeping the temperature higher for one cold night should be fine. If you are leaving your home entirely during a cold period, don’t turn your thermostat off! It’s recommended that you keep it at around 55 degrees Fahrenheit while you are away.
- If your climate regularly experiences below-freezing temperatures at night, check to see if your pipes are insulated. There are insulation wraps that can shield pipes from cold temperatures in the long term.
What to Do If Pipes Freeze
If you catch the problem while pipes are still frozen, you probably won’t know if your pipes have burst or not. That means it’s time to act very carefully before leaks can develop. Start by shutting off the water main valve to your home. Call a professional plumber and arrange for a visit as soon as you can. Try to locate the pipes that have frozen and start carefully warming them up to help release any blockages, watching for leaks every step of the way.
In worst-case scenarios, you may not know that your pipes burst until they have already thawed and have been leaking for some time, creating widespread water damage, in which case turning off your water main and contacting a plumber become even more important.
Remember, if your house experiences water damage from burst pipes, it’s important to act immediately! Lingering pools or moisture can cause problems with rot, lead to mold growth, and create other long-term issues. At MasterPro Restoration, we offer 24/7 emergency response and restoration services specifically for these kinds of events, and can even help you with insurance.