While most of us might not know what a ‘polar vortex’ is, I can tell you that it’s making us downright cold! (Okay. A polar vortex sends blasts of arctic air our way, causing sub-normal temperatures.) We’re not the only ones suffering; the pipes in our homes and offices may be feeling the frost as well.
Below freezing temperatures can cause pipes to burst (when water freezes, it expands which can cause a pipe to burst), which can lead to flooding, and then mold infestation. There is also the possibility they will burst when they thaw, so you may be in for an unpleasant surprise if you weren’t aware it froze in the first place.
Pipes freeze for three main reasons: a drop in temperature to below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, poor insulation, proximity to exterior walls and unheated spaces, and thermostats set too low to stave off the cold. So what can you do to protect those pipes? Here are a few tips.
PREVENT FROZEN PIPES:
- Insulate pipes in your home’s crawl spaces and attic, since exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing;
- Seal spaces and openings that allow cold air indoors near where pipes are located;
- A trickle of water can prevent your pipes from freezing. Open faucets that are vulnerable to freezing and let them drip slowly;
- Don’t lower the thermostat dramatically at night or when you leave for the day. Dropping it a degree or two is fine, but sudden drops in temperature can cause your pipes to freeze;
- Open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to un-insulated pipes such as under sinks and near exterior walls;
- Disconnect garden hoses, turn off the water supply valve inside, and keep the faucets open outside so any leftover water doesn’t freeze in the pipes.
IF A PIPE FREEZES OR BURSTS:
- Open the faucet to release pressure, and then add heat from a portable hair dryer or heater to the pipe to try to thaw the blockage. (You can tell if the pipe is frozen if there is no running water or just a trickle, and there is frost on the pipe or the pipe is slightly bulged or fissured.) But never use a flame torch!
- If water is trickling out, leave the faucet open as dripping water helps prevent a total blockage.
- If the pipe remains frozen, call in a plumber immediately.
- If a water pipe bursts, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve and leave the faucet open.
- Try to dry out the area as quickly as possible. Damp and wet areas are prime locations for mold growth, which can blossom within 24 hours.
- Once the repairs are complete, have a certified microbial inspector come in to test the area and make sure there is no lingering mold. Often times, remediation companies will come in right away and fix the main water issue, but do not allow ample time for floors, ceilings, and wall board to dry before finishing the job. Moisture is sealed into these areas, creating a perfect environment for mold to grow behind the walls and floors.
For additional information on freezing and thawing pipes, you can visit the Red Cross website.