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Preventing Frozen Pipes

Please be pro-active in taking a few simple precautions and save yourself the mess, money, and aggravation frozen pipes cause.

The Public Works Department has experienced many calls from residents to turn off water after pipes have frozen and broken. In the time that it takes for us to respond much damage could have taken place.

Question: Does your home have a main water shutoff valve inside? If so, have you operated it recently? Valves have to be operated periodically so that they don't seize up. You need them to work in the event of an emergency! If you don't have a main shutoff valve inside, we urge you to have one installed. Keep in mind, in a short period of time a water leak can cause considerable damage to a home. We've seen it! By the time we respond to shut off your water at the meter, a ton of water could have leaked out inside your home, or if you're in an apartment or townhouse, to your neighbor's home. The small amount you'll pay to have a shutoff valve installed is nothing compared to tens of thousands of dollars, maybe more if a pipe bursts inside your home. Familiarize yourself and your occupants with the shutoff valve, know how to shut it off in the event of an emergency!

When water freezes, it expands up to ten percent in volume.  That is why a can of soda explodes if it is put into a freezer to chill quickly and forgotten.  When water freezes, it expands the same way putting tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes.   If it expands enough, the pipe bursts, water escapes, and serious damage results.  It is important to note that fire sprinkler pipes tend to freeze before other water pipes because the water is not moving.  When water freezes in a sprinkler pipe, it creates an obstruction that can make the system inoperable during a fire.  As ice in the pipe expands, added pressure can cause the pipe to burst.

What’s the solution?

Prior to cold weather, locate any pipes, equipment, and processes that are dependent upon heat or above freezing temperatures for safety and proper operation.  This may include sprinkler piping, water piping, swimming pool supply lines, sewer piping, and any process that contains a liquid vulnerable to freezing.   Drain liquids from any idle equipment and piping.   Insulate pipes that are in unheated areas such as 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.

Disconnect garden hoses from all outdoor faucets.  Turn off outside water lines, and then open the outside spigots to drain any water still in the pipes.  This reduces the chance of freezing in the short span of pipe just inside the house.

During cold weather, keep windows, vents, and doors closed where possible.  Maintain an inside temperature about 55 degrees Fahrenheit.   Portable heaters may be used in areas subject to freezing.   Routine inspections of portable heaters should be conducted.  When using a portable heater, make sure the heater carries the Underwriters Laboratories listed label.  Temporary heaters should have standard safety controls, such as high-temperature cut-outs, flame supervision, flame failure and preset safety regulators.  Heaters must be placed away from combustible materials and operated according to manufacturers’ instructions.

Thawing Frozen Pipes

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe.  The likely place for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.  Keep the faucet open.  As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area.  Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.   Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water.   Do not use open flames to thaw frozen pipes or other equipment.   If the frozen pipe is part of a fire sprinkler system, Fire Impairment Procedures should be implemented.

Apply heat until full water pressure is restored.  If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.  Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes because if one pipe freezes, others may freeze also.

Having a water shutoff valve installed inside your home is recommended.  In the event of an emergency, a shutoff valve will provide the means to immediately shut off the water, preventing a catastrophe if you are not at home.

A local plumber can perform this installation.  Once installed it is important to make sure that everyone in your household is aware of the location of the valve.  The valve should be operated periodically to prevent it from seizing up.  If your home is already equipped with a shutoff valve, verify its location and ensure that it works.

For more information,log on to www.weather.com or   

http://www.redcross.org/news/article/Preventing-and-Thawing-Frozen-Pipes

Town of Denton Department of Public Works, 650 Legion Road, Denton MD 21629 Phone: 410-479-5446 Fax: 410-479-5447

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