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The Winter Danger Lurking in Your Water Pipes

Jan. 11, 2017 at midnight

During the winter months, the water pipes in your house might be ticking bombs. Neglect your plumbing—as a surprising number of owners do—and you could literally have an explosion in your home.

One of water's unique properties is that it expands when frozen. At subfreezing temperatures, ice can easily form in water pipes. Two scenarios are possible: The ice could swell, pressing against the walls of the pipe causing a crack or, more likely, it could cause blockages that lead to pipe failure. Once a pipe has burst, your home could get flooded — resulting in serious damage to your property. Rotting wooden floors, spoiled furniture, rusted steel, and broken appliances can be the result of an accidental water leak. In addition, it poses health and even life-threatening hazards: contaminants in the water, mold growth, as well as possible electrocution.

What you can do

Fortunately, bursting frozen pipes can be prevented.

First, it's crucial to ease the pressure caused by ice blockages. You can do this by allowing faucets to drip. Since the faucet is open slightly, excessive downstream water pressure can't build up and burst the pipe. However, this solution is a bit wasteful, and slow flowing water can still freeze. However, if you do decide to make use of this method, be wary: if you notice that the dripping has stopped, then ice must have formed in the pipe. Don't simply close the faucet; it's best to continue relieving the pressure.

Next, stop water from freezing by keeping the pipes warm. Inspect exterior walls for holes and seal these to prevent pipes from exposure to the cold. There's not as much risk to interior plumbing as your heating system will prevent freezing pipes. Exposed pipes in unheated indoor areas like the attic and garage should be insulated with foam or wrapped with electric heating tapes. Accordingly, keep the heat turned on to at least 55 degrees even when nobody's at home. Having a backup power source is also ideal in the event of power interruptions.

Sometimes, extremely cold weather can still cause pipes to freeze in a heated house. A sensible solution is to make sure that there is no water left in the pipes. Shut the main valve and drain all the water lines by leaving every water fixture open.

Installing a water leak detector or an automatic excess flow shut-off valve for your entire house is a wise precautionary measure. Should you notice that your plumbing system is not working as it should, then immediately call a licensed plumber to assess and fix any issues.

Loss avoidance is key

All the methods above aim to prevent disaster from happening in the first place. According to IBHS research, just one "burst pipe can result in more than $5,000 in water damage." Furthermore, don't think that having a home insurance policy (given that it covers accidental water damage) will cover all your expenses. Some policies have provisions that exclude coverage for what can be perceived as negligence on the part of the homeowner such as forgetting to drain water lines or not turning the heat on. If that's not an issue in your case, there's still a large deductible that might be incurred. Lastly, the extensive clean-up and repair not only costs a great deal of money but also time and energy.

Prevention is always better than cure — so keep your home warm and safe!


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