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Why Do Water Pipes Burst When They Freeze?

Sunday, February 12th, 2023 by Aaron Stull

Why Do Water Pipes Burst When They Freeze? - Image 1Water pipes can freeze and burst due to a phenomenon known as thermal expansion. We see this quite often in our business. This occurs in homes and buildings when water in pipes freezes and expands, putting pressure on the pipes and causing them to crack or break. This can cause significant damage to a building's plumbing system and result in costly repairs.

When water freezes, its volume increases by approximately 9%. As a consequence, frozen water in pipes puts pressure on the sides of the pipes, causing them to expand and potentially crack or break. If the water continues to freeze, the pressure will continue to increase, causing more and more damage to the pipes. The water pressure in the pipes is what causes the pipes to burst when they freeze. It pushes outward from within the pipe and bursts it from the inside.

The risk of pipes freezing and bursting is higher in areas that experience extremely cold temperatures, which makes sense. This is exacerbated in older homes and buildings that have insufficient insulation. Pipes that are located in unheated areas, such as attics, garages, and basements, are also more vulnerable to freezing. Additionally, pipes that are not properly sealed or protected from the cold can freeze more easily.

To prevent pipes from freezing and bursting, it's important to take steps to insulate pipes and keep them warm. This can include adding insulation to pipes, sealing any cracks or gaps in the walls or floors where pipes are located, and keeping the temperature in unheated areas above freezing. In areas that experience particularly cold temperatures, it may also be necessary to use heat tapes or similar devices to keep pipes warm. Crawlspace encapsulation using SilverGlo is a particularly effective method as crawlspaces are a major area where pipes freeze and burst.

If you think that your pipes may be at risk of freezing and bursting, there are several signs to look for. One of the most common indications is a decrease in water pressure, which can indicate that the water in the pipes has started to freeze. Another sign is a change in the color or taste of the water, which can indicate that the pipes have started to crack and mud or other matter aired getting into the water supply.

If you do experience a pipe burst, it's important to act quickly to minimize the damage. The first step is to turn off the water supply to the affected pipes.  Most homes will have a shut off to the home’s supply.  Additionally, there may be regional shut offs as well. This will prevent water from continuing to flow and causing more damage. Once the water supply has been turned off, it's important to call a plumber to assess the situation and make the necessary repairs.  Only until the water issue is resolved should disaster restoration begin.  

In some cases, the damage to pipes may be extensive, and the entire plumbing system may need to be replaced. In these situations, it's important to work with a qualified professional who can assess the situation and make the necessary recommendations for repairs or replacement. Do you have an issue at your home with a wet basement? Click HERE or give uus a call at (800) 771-3244. 

About the author
Aaron Stull is a second generation foundation repair specialist from the greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.

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