Freezing temps threaten water pipes

By Frank Lewis

January 7, 2014

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

The sub-freezing temperatures being experienced by area residents present their own individual sets of problems, including frozen water pipes.

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. Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation are also subject to freezing.

Michelle Witter, of Witter Plumbing of West Portsmouth, said there are things you can do to help prevent water pipes from freezing.

“We always tell people if there is going to be freezing temperatures, to keep a faucet dripping, and to open the cabinets under the sink to let the heat from the room get to the pipes,” Witter said. “Another thing you should do is disconnect outside hoses from the waterlines.”

Witter said they had calls Tuesday morning of one house where pipes were frozen, and because of the volume of people who have experienced frozen pipes over the last couple of days, they had not gotten to that house yet.

The American Red Cross offers some advice as well.

Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer’s or installer’s directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is environmentally harmful, and is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.

Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.

Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated.

Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a “pipe sleeve” or installing UL-listed “heat tape,” “heat cable,” or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes – even one-fourth” of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.