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Safety Tips for Frozen Pipes

January 18, 2013

Frozen PipesOne of our investigators spent an afternoon underneath a manufactured home yesterday.  Cold weather had frozen water pipes and the homeowner’s remedy resulted in a fire.  Cold weather is a fact of life here in eastern Washington.  Following are some tips to keep pipes thawed and your house intact:

1.    Prevention is the best medicine.  Insulate exposed pipes and protect them from cold.  Remember, anytime you enclose and insulate a space, wildlife will view that as a good place to hibernate or store food.  Squirrels and mice can rearrange your insulation so that your piping will be exposed again.  So check your piping every fall to ensure you won’t have a problem once winter hits.

2.    Pipe sleeves or UL-listed heat tape work well.  Once again, check these things every fall to ensure they’re in good working order.

3.    It may be prudent to hire a plumber to re-route pipes to locations where there is greater heat protection.

4.    If you’re in the middle of a cold snap and fear freezing pipes, turn faucets on just a trickle.  The tiniest amount of water movement will help.

5.    If water flow stops, it’s probably due to frozen water somewhere in the pipe.  As water freezes it expands.  That expansion in an enclosed pipe can split the pipe.  That will take a little time, so if you’ve just noticed a freeze-up and can locate the frozen spot, you have some options:

  • First things first.  Open the faucet so water, steam and heat from your thawing action can escape, rather than build up pressure and cause leaks.
  • Locate the frozen spot and start thawing on the side toward the faucet so that melted water can run out.  If you start in the middle or upstream of the frozen point, you’ll build up more pressure and perhaps cause a leak.
  • Wrap the suspect pipe with towels soaked in hot water.  Keep changing out towels, or pouring hot water on the towels until the frozen spot thaws.  Use a bucket underneath to catch drips.  This method localizes heat right where you need it and is probably the most efficient.
  • You can also use a hair dryer to heat up the frozen pipe.  This is not as efficient at using hot towels, but in tight spaces this may be your only option.
  • Wrap a heating pad around the suspected spot.  Do not leave the heating pad there indefinitely.  This is an emergency measure and the heating pad must be monitored constantly.  Remove the pad once the freeze-up is cleared.
  • Use space heaters only in accordance with manufacturer’s specifications.  Pay careful attention to distances around the heater and air flow.  Many heaters require some air flow to keep from overheating.  Remember that paper on fiberglass bat insulation will ignite.
  • NEVER use a torch.  Torches will melt plastic plumbing as well as soldered pipe joints.  Heat from a torch doesn’t just warm the pipe.  Torches also heat nearby wooden structural elements.  Even if the affected pipe is not near wood, metal plumbing will conduct the heat from a torch to combustible framing and start a fire.  Fires from using torches to melt frozen pipes are pretty common.
  • DO NOT use fuel burning appliances such as propane, charcoal barbecue, kerosene, etc. underneath or inside your house.  Fuel burning appliances produce carbon monoxide, the number one accidental poisoning killer in the United States.

No one wants to deal with frozen pipes this winter and we hope you don’t have this problem.  If you do, pay attention to the fire safety concerns outlined above.  We’d rather you not experience frozen pipes AND a fire.

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From → Fire Prevention

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