Insurance Blog
Tuesday, 02 January 2018 15:46

5 Signs Your Pipes Are Frozen & How To Thaw Them

Cold temperatures will affect Massachusetts for at least the next week, and we want to offer some helpful tips to protect your property from the potential of frozen pipes and other hazards this winter.

When standing water gets trapped in pipes and the temperature plummets below freezing, the frozen water expands and bursts a hole right through the pipe or breaks the pipe at its seam. As the water in pipes freezes it expands, creating as much as 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, enough to cause almost any pipe filled with water to rupture. The bad news is that a burst pipe can releases hundreds of gallons of water per hour, causing thousands of dollars in damage to repair.

So what are some signs that you might have a problem with your pipes? Here are five things to look for:

  1. Unusual sounds
    “When you flush the toilet or use the sink, air that cannot escape to the sewer lines will create a bubbling noise,” explains Howard White, CR, executive vice president of Maxons Restorations, Inc., in New York City. “This can be a sign that there is a broken pipe and it should be inspected.” Other noises to watch out for include whistling, banging or clanking. If a pipe is dented or damaged, a portion of the pipe may be too small for the water to pass through and it may emit a whistling sound. “If a whistling sound suddenly occurs, it should be checked out as soon as possible,” says White. “Increased water pressure on compromised pipes can cause the pipe to burst.” Sometimes loose pipes can bump into each other, causing a clanking sound and tension that could lead to holes or leaks.
  2. Odors
    Sewage has a distinctly unpleasant odor and can be a dead giveaway that something is wrong. If drains, sinks, toilets or other areas have strong odor, that can be a sign that there is a backup or broken pipe. Pay particular attention to sinks, toilets and drains on the lower level of a home or building.
  3. Damp Drywall
    Leaking pipes will release water and damp drywall or wet rings on the ceiling are definite indicators that there is a problem. Water coming from drop ceilings or dripping from a ceiling that isn't just below a roofline are other signs. Also look for puddles or places where water may be accumulating that it shouldn’t. Sink holes in the yard could be a sign that there is a break in one of the main underground pipes.
  4. Water flow issues
    If you turn the water on and nothing comes out, that’s an indication that something is wrong. Water that smells funny or is discolored could be another sign of a plumbing issue. If the water comes out slowly or in an uneven stream, there could be a break or clog in the pipe. Persistent clogs are another indicator. Clogged drains or a slow-flushing toilet, any problem that is persistent, is an indicator that something is wrong.
  5. Wet or iced pipes
    For pipes that are exposed, it may be easy to see that frost has built up on them or that there is condensation on the pipes. This is an important warning sign before turning on the faucet. Bulging pipes are another indication that they are frozen (think of a python that just had something to eat). Check all pipes on the property since one pipe may be an indicator that others have frozen too. Once you’ve determined that a pipe is frozen, there are several steps you can take to thaw the pipes and hopefully minimize any damage.

How Prepare For & Prevent Frozen Pipes:

  • Clean your gutters so melting snow and ice can flow freely
  • Turn on your faucets and allow them to drip slowly. Moving water will prevent freezing.
  • Heat your house to a minimum of 65 degrees in the winter
  • Open cabinet doors below sinks. It will help allow warm air to circulate.
  • Drain your water system if you’re away for an extended time.
  • Disconnect all gardening hoses and install covers on all outside faucets.
  • Identify the location of the main water valve and the valve on your water heater. (Learning the location of these valves may come in handy during an emergency.)
  • Wrap pipes nearest exterior walls and in crawl spaces with pipe insulation or with heating tape. This can prevent freezing, especially for interior pipes that run along outside walls.
  • Close all windows near water pipes; cover or close open-air vents. Freezing temperatures combined with wind drafts can cause pipes to freeze more frequently.
  • Heat your basement and consider weather sealing your windows.
  • Insulate outside walls and unheated areas of your home.
  • If you plan to be away from home for an extended period of time, shut off water supply valves to your washing machine.


Before leaving for an extended period of time:

  • Set the thermostat no lower than 65 degrees.
  • Consider turning off the water and draining the system. Shut off the main water valve and turn on every water faucet-hot and cold-until the water stops running. You can then shut off the faucets since there will be no water, and therefore no pressure, in the system. When you return, turn on the main value and let faucets run until the system is full and pressurized. Check with a plumber if you haven't done this before to ensure the proper steps are followed.
  • Ask someone you trust regulary check your property while you're away. They'll notice anything that happens before more damage can occure.
  • Consider installing smart home devices such as Nest products and wi-fi thermostats with smart phone apps. The app can be set up to send alerts when the heat is not working, giving you a chance to call someone to take care of the issue while you're away.
  • Discuss with a plumber the option of installing an automatic water shutoff device.
  • Programmable thermastats that are not hard wired operate on batteries. During cold weather, the batteries work overtime to help keep your home warm, thus draining more rapidly. Before leaving home, replace with fresh, fully charged batteries. 

How To Thaw Frozen Pipes

In addition to practicing patience, take these steps to follow if your pipes freeze:

  1. Turn off the water to either that section of the house or to the entire home if that is the only option. If the frozen pipe is slowing the flow of water, water will quickly flow out of the pipe when the ice dam is removed.
  2. Open the faucet of the frozen pipe to allow water to flow through and relieve the build-up of any pressure. Running water through the pipe will also help to melt any ice in the pipe.
  3. Apply heat to the section of frozen pipe. This can be done by wrapping a heating pad around the pipe, heating it with a blow dryer, wrapping the pipes in towels soaked in warm water, or using a space heater to warm the area where the pipes are located. Continue to apply heat until the water pressure is restored and the water flows through freely.
  4. If you can’t identify the location of the frozen section, call a plumber. You may want to call a plumber to check all the pipes as well.

Does Your Policy Cover Frozen Pipes?

Water damage is one of the most common causes of insurance claims. In general, water damage from a burst pipe will be covered by a standard homeowners and commercial insurance policy.  But, not all insurance policies are alike and each property owner should take the time to check for coverage for water damage. If you have damage, call us or your insurance company to file a claim.

Being prepared and planning ahead can help get your property through a cold spell. It's still frigid out there, and will be for a while -- now is as good a time to give us a call to determine if your policy covers frozen, broken pipes. 

Sources: Property Casualty 360 and N&D Group

Read 4290 times Last modified on Tuesday, 11 January 2022 20:29

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