Freezing Pipes Information
Houses at Risk for Freezing Pipes
Older Ottawa area homes (pre 1960’s) were built when people had less knowledge on how and where to apply insulating systems that kept us toasty on cold days. As such the homes tend to be more draughty and generally colder the older they are more vulnerable. Also, homes where there has been renovation especially in the basement. If this is the first winter after after the renovation there are potential risks from freezing even if the renovation is fairly minor. Piping that has been exposed for years without any problems may now suddenly freeze. If this happens, it is usually because the house used to leak/waste so much heat that the air moving around the pipes kept them from freezing. Now that the pipes are covered by new walls and insulation, the air movement that used to keep the pipes from freezing is not moving. Unless great care was taken with the new insulation system the pipes are more likely to stay cold and freeze in the new walls (unfortunately we have seen this quite a few times).
Why Do Pipes Freeze?
Pipes freeze when the water inside is allowed to get cold enough to solidify. The freezing process usually takes some time as water requires a lot of heat (or cool) energy to change temperature. Of course, in extremely cold weather, pipes can freeze in a matter of minutes. If water is flowing through the pipe it requires a lot more work to make it freeze and is not very common. In a home, a pipe is likely to freeze if it is low to the ground in a cold area where air flow is at a minimum. Other areas tend to be near outer walls where gaps in the insulation or spots where air flow from the outside is possible, for example in the basement where the wood framing is joined to the concrete foundation.
Why Do Pipes Burst?
Usually only a small section of the pipe actually freezes but once it does, no water can flow. Water expands as it freezes (10% in volume); the expansion starts by increasing in length along the pipe. If the freezing zone is small and the length of the pipe is straight and long, the likelihood of bursting is small. If the pipe has bends in it, the ice that forms is less likely to expand away from the cold zone. In this instance, a section of water in the pipe can become trapped. When this trapped water starts to freeze the pressure in that section increases; once the pressure gets too high the pipe will split open(burst). It is important to know that although the pipe has burst at this time, there will not be any water leakage until the pipe actually thaws out and the water starts to flow again.
Prevent Pipes From Freezing By Following These Tips
Leave a tap open (dripping) on pipes where freezing is likely to happen or has happened before. This will keep water in the pipes moving and reduces the likelihood that freezing will occur. Leave the space around the pipes as open as possible, this allows warmer air to circulate around them. As long as the air temperature is above freezing the air movement will assist in keeping the pipe warm enough so that it will not freeze. Ensure your house heating is on and all areas get heated evenly, cold spots are more likely to freeze. Insulate, insulate! If your pipes are accessible, insulate with the foam wrapping you can get from most hardware stores. If your pipes are hidden by drywall, open up all doors to allow the house heat to move through all rooms. If the temperatures are dipping consider using a heater in the areas you think are most likely to freeze.
How Do I Know My Pipes Are Frozen?
If it is cold, windy and the fixtures were working several hours earlier but are not now,chances are good that they are frozen. Any temperature below -15 degrees C generally is cause for concern when it comes to freezing pipes. Pipes are more likely to freeze if they are on an outside wall and not insulated well enough. Basements may be finished without vapour barrier or insulation behind the drywall: allowing the pipes to get cold and freeze.
My Pipes Are frozen. Now What?
If you are sure where the freeze may have occurred, use a hairdryer in the area and gently move around the freeze point. Open the fixture taps that are not running; over time warmer air from the house can enter the pipe and assist with the thawing process. Bursting and water damage is a reality. If you have to leave the home, shut off the water supply to whole house so that potential damage can be limited. If the cold weather is set to stay cold for a long period of time, it is would be a good idea to have DS Plumbing (read our plumbing reviews here) come by to thaw out the pipes as the longer they are frozen, the more likely they are to burst. For more tips and information on frozen pipes watch our YouTube video: