Frozen Pipes

Frozen Pipes

Winter weather can cause extreme damage to a home when inspections and preparation for the cold weather are neglected. Extreme cold, heavy snow, ice, and freezing rain can pose a serious threat to a property. It’s important to prepare your home in advance for potential frozen pipes.

Heavy snow and low temperatures can cause pipes to freeze and roofs to leak. Improper maintenance and inspection of the roof, pipes, and areas of the home that are less insulated can leave you with some unexpected headaches to deal with this winter season.

Luckily, there are several things you can do in order to avoid potentially costly problems. Winterizing your home if you plan on traveling, insulating your pipes and windows, and keeping gutters clean to avoid ice dams are some easy ways to prepare.

Pipe Freezing

If your pipes freeze, you’re lucky if the freeze occurs in a straight run of pipe; then you can let it thaw out naturally or thaw it out with heat and there will be no broken pipes. This is because when water freezes, it expands, and when water freezes in a straight run of pipe, it expands at both ends, and there is no blockage to burst the pipe.

Freezing occurs during a cold snap that lasts at least several days. In a day or two, you might get slush, which will come right out of the tap. In three or more days the slush will turn into ice causing the pipe to freeze.

Ice forming in a pipe does not typically cause a break where the ice blockage occurs. It’s not the radial expansion of ice against the wall of the pipe that causes the break.

Rather, following a complete ice blockage in a pipe, continued freezing and expansion inside the pipe causes water pressure to increase downstream – between the ice blockage and a closed faucet at the end. It’s this increase in water pressure that leads to pipe failure.

Pipe Thawing

Frozen Pipes Chicago Water Damage Restoration

To thaw an exposed pipe, turn the tap on and apply heat to the pipe. A hair dryer is sufficient; a hot-air gun is way too hot. Be sure to start thawing the pipe nearest the tap. This will allow melted Water to run through the tap, slowly but safely.

If you thaw the pipe at the other end of the freeze, melted ice will be blocked by un-melted ice and you could have an explosion. You can also thaw pipes by wrapping them with cloth and pouring hot Water on the cloth. The hair dryer is still best.

You can also hang a 100-watt trouble light or two on the pipe; this will take longer to thaw, but once thawed, you can keep those lights on the pipes to help prevent future freezing.


In colder climates, frozen pipes can create additional challenges. If electrical power to a job site has been interrupted and heat is not available, all water supply lines to the structure must be turned off as part of the initial emergency service.

Additionally, all water should be drained from water lines and water reservoirs such as in the toilet water tank, water heaters, and any other water storage areas. In places where standing water remains, add recreational vehicle anti-freeze to prevent freezing. This anti-freeze should also be added into the sanitary drains to prevent freezing within the traps.

Ice Dams

An ice dam is a hump of ice that forms at the edge of a roof under certain wintertime conditions. An ice dam can damage both your roof and the inside of your home. It will put gutters and downspouts at risk too.

There are several things you can do to avoid getting an ice dam or to reduce the risk of damage after one has formed, but there’s really only one cure: a combination of better sealing, insulation, and venting in the attic and eaves.