Got Frozen Pipes?

frozenpipe-300x300This week’s frigid weather is likely to become the cause of extensive structural damage due to unprotected water pipes.

Cold weather pop-quiz:

What is the lowest possible heat setting that will absolutely prevent a pipe from freezing within a building?

A. 20-degrees Fahrenheit.
B. 33-degrees Fahrenheit.
C. 55-degrees Fahrenheit.
D. The temperatures listed above will not absolutely prevent a pipe freeze.

ANSWER: C.  Although many experts recommend a 55-degree minimum, this recommendation does not have academic origin. Every structure is unique in terms of the placement of pipes, insulation, thermostat location, and many additional factors. It is better to be safe than sorry as turning the heat down in search of the lowest possible heat setting can result in pipe freeze breaks which lead to costly repairs.

Residential damage occurs most often from ruptures in pipes in which the water freezes, ultimately causing leakage or flooding in the home. Depending on the size of the fracture, a ruptured supply pipe can leak as much as 10,000 gallons of water per day. Large-loss leaks of this magnitude are not uncommon, especially when homeowners are away during extended periods of time.

Water leaks from frozen water pipes result in significant losses each year, second only to hurricanes in terms of both the cost of the claims and the number of damaged homes. Although some insurance companies do not officially recognize frozen water pipes as a “catastrophe”, insurers across the nation share the burden of these incredible monetary losses.

Property owners and managers may be responsible for damages that result from a pipe rupture and the subsequent leakage in an unheated (or inadequately heated) building. The resulting water damage can be extremely costly to repair when, in most cases, pipe freezing is completely preventable with winterization techniques.

Prevention Tactics

  • Insulate, insulate, insulate! Apply adequate insulation or heat tape to exposed pipes (crawlspaces, attics, garages).
  • During prolonged periods of extremely cold temperatures, open vanity cabinet doors along the exterior walls – this allows warmer interior air to reach the piping.
  • Allow water to trickle from the faucets for two reasons: 1), to relieve pressure buildup in the event water begins to freeze within a pipe and 2), to prevent freezing by drawing in relatively warmer water to replenish the system (depending on the volume of the trickle).

About Tyler Schwein: Tyler possesses a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Engineering with a Mechanical specialty from the Colorado School of Mines. He is professionally recognized as an Engineer in Training according to the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors. He has been extensively involved with failure analysis and laboratory testing as they pertain to mechanical engineering and claims investigation.

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