Frozen or burst pipes during the cold weather months can be one of the most costly maintenance issues you'll face as a property owner. A burst pipe suddenly flooding your kitchen can quickly become an out-of-hand emergency that could cost you thousands of dollars in damage. A quick and accurate response is key to resolving the issue and mitigating both damage to your property and your out-of-pocket cost.
Steps to Take Ahead of Time
If you own property in an area that experiences cold weather, you need to be aware of seasonal maintenance tasks that will help you protect your property as the weather changes each year. One of the most important steps is to winterize your pipes to ensure they won't freeze or burst when the temperature drops. This includes action items like insulating any exposed pipes, detaching garden hoses and covering outdoor faucets. If the weather gets cold enough, you may even consider leaving a faucet dripping or opening cabinet doors during the coldest parts of the day.
No matter how prepared you might be, accidents and emergencies still happen. You'd be wise to set up a savings account specifically for your property so you have a "rainy day" fund set aside for unexpected expenses. All homes—regardless of age, location or condition—will inevitably need some form of emergency repair.
Steps to Take for Frozen Pipes
A frozen pipe will not necessarily burst, so if you can catch a frozen pipe early on, you could save yourself a major headache. When your area experiences frigid temperatures, be sure to check your plumbing and keep an eye out for warning signs like faucets only releasing small amounts of water or toilets not refilling when flushed. If you do run into one of these issues, you're likely dealing with a frozen pipe.
If this happens, your first step should be to cut off the water supply to that section of the plumbing. Expanding and freezing water can quickly cause damage. Even if the water supply is shut off, you will likely still deal with some leaking from the water that defrosts after the pipe has thawed. Be prepared with a mop, bucket and/or towels to quickly soak up any excess water.
In order to thaw a frozen pipe, you can use a space heater, infrared or incandescent heat lamp, or even a hairdryer to warm up the frozen area. Heat tape is also an option and should be used according to manufacturer instructions. Do not use any sort of open flame to thaw frozen pipes, as it poses a major fire hazard and can damage your pipes further.
Steps to Take for a Burst Pipe
Water damage claims are the second most common insurance claim in the U.S. When you're dealing with a frozen pipe, the water continues to expand as it freezes, which creates pressure that can cause a pipe to burst. When this happens, the crack or leak in the pipe allows water flow from the pipe to enter your home where it shouldn't. If a pipe does burst, you need to act quickly to mitigate property damage and repair cost.
- Your very first step should be to shut off your main water supply to minimize flooding—typically the most expensive damage to address.
- Once you've shut off the water supply, make sure you identify the entire area that has been impacted by the leak. Remove as much water as possible—as quickly as possible—using a mop, sponges, towels or a shop vacuum or wet/dry vacuum.
- To prevent long-term damage due to moisture build-up, run a dehumidifier or fan in the affected area.
- Contact a licensed plumber to ensure the pipe is correctly repaired before running any water to that section of the home again.
Burst pipes and the associated water damage are something you absolutely want to avoid as a property owner. If you've had to learn your lesson the hard way, don't let yourself get caught in a similar situation during the next spell of cold weather. The best way to deal with frozen or burst pipes is to prevent them in the first place—proactive winter maintenance will save you time, money and a whole lot of stress.