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Frozen pipes can cause extensive damage to home

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cold weather in the winter can take a toll on your home. That's especially true when it comes to plumbing.

Water has a unique property in that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. No matter the "strength" of a container, expanding water can cause pipes to break.

Pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets. And, pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation.

"The outside temperature may be freezing at 32 degrees, but the inside of the house will stay pretty warm. If it gets below zero, you want to leave your water inside the house running," said State Farm Insurance Agent Allen Williams.

"Two minutes. That's about as long as it takes to begin a small trickle of water from your home's hot and cold faucets and to open the doors of cabinets with water pipes running through them," said Williams.

"Two weeks. That could be the length of time needed to find and hire contractors to tear out smelly, water-soaked carpet and wallboard, dry the remaining flooring of your house and replace everything destroyed by flooding from burst, frozen pipes," he continued.

Williams also says it makes sense to be proactive when it comes to winter and the plumbing in your home.

"Insulate the pipes in your home's crawl spaces and attic. Use heat tape to wrap pipes, seal leaks that allow cold air inside and close air vents under the house," instructs Williams.

The American Red Cross also offers some tips on what to do if you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out.

"If you suspect a frozen pipe," says the Red Cross, "keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt more ice in the pipe."

They also suggest applying heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, and electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water.

Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device. A blowtorch can make water in a frozen pipe boil and cause the pipe to explode. All open flames in homes present a serious fire danger, as well as a severe risk of exposure to lethal carbon monoxide.

"Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you can not thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber," they add.

If you have one pipe freeze, check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.

And, don't forget when leaving your house make sure the garage door closes all the way. If the water softener or water heater's in the garage, or any plumbing, they'll freeze and break if you leave that garage door open.

You should also know where the main water shut off is in your home or business. If something goes wrong, you'll want to shut off the water and call a plumber immediately. The cost of a good plumber ranges from $90-$120 an hour. So, keeping the pipes from freezing will save you a bundle.

For more information on disaster safety, check out: www.redcross.org/disaster/safety or contact your local American Red Cross Chapter.

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