How Pipes Burst and What You Can Do to Prevent It from Happening

Many people know about or are familiar with frozen pipes bursting. However, many people don't really understand how it happens. Here's the how of it, as well as what you can do to prevent it from happening.

How Ice Contributes to Burst Pipes

You may assume the ice expands until the pipe cannot take it anymore and bursts. That sounds somewhat logical, but that's not what's occurring. As water in a pipe turns to ice, it pushes at the non-frozen water. Pressure builds up as the ice pushes that water against closed faucets or any other dead end. Too much pressure from that process and the pipe will burst.

Bad Thawing Practices Can Cause a Pipe to Burst.

The same rules about pressure apply to the steam created by thawing a pipe too quickly. Many people attempt to thaw out a frozen pipe using intense heat sources such as blowtorches and electric heaters. However, rapidly melted ice turns to steam, and just like the trapped water, that steam also has nowhere to go.

How to Prevent Pipes From Bursting

The easiest way to keep frozen pipes from bursting is to take steps to keep them from freezing at all.

Keep your home warm. Turn up the temperature. Having a lot of warm areas will help to keep the water running smoothly.

Allow the faucets to drip. You don't have to do this all the time. But when you suspect it's going to be a particularly cold night, you should let your faucets drip. Giving water a way out will keep the pressure from building inside the pipes.

Disconnect your hose. You should remove your garen hose (and drain it), then go inside to turn off the inside valve for the outside faucet. Go back out, turn on the outside faucet, and let it drain any water that's left in there.

Open pipe-containing cabinets. Open the cabinets below the bathroom sink and kitchen faucet. The idea here is to allow warm air to contact those pipes.

These are all simple things you can do to help prevent ice from forming in the pipes. The key is to keep enough warm spots so that traveling water can raise a degree or two in temperature and keep moving.

If you're in a climate that reaches below freezing temperatures regularly, you should apply insulation to the pipes that see the most exposure to the cold. You should also insulate your home as much as you can.

How to Deal with Frozen Pipes

Sometimes, even your best efforts cannot prevent a pipe from freezing. If you turn on the tap and no water comes out, there's a good chance you have a frozen pipe. This is a critical situation, but you shouldn't panic. Simply follow these steps:

  • Turn off your water at the main valve
  • Call a professional contractor

That's really it. It's not a good idea to try to thaw out a pipe on your own. However, if you are willing to try it yourself, make sure you do it slowly. A good way to go about it is to

  • wrap a hot towel around the frozen section closest to the open faucet,
  • poor hot water over the towel until water and steam come out of the faucet, and
  • move the towel down the pipe some, then repeat.

To play it safe, you should really contact a professional to either defrost the pipes for you or at least guide you through the process.