Re: IMPT Information on Frozen Pipes
From: Holly Wilder (
Date: Sat, 11 Jan 2014 13:51:42 -0800 (PST)
Very helpful, thanks for sending.  I am a property manager and tell my tenants 
to set a faucet to drip, but didn't have a great understanding of it myself.   
Stay warm! - h

Holly Wilder
Visionary Properties LLC
hollywilder23 [at]
(303) 517-4180 cell

On Jan 11, 2014, at 11:34 AM, Sharon Villines wrote:

> Below is an excerpt from a NYTimes article on frozen pipes, why they freeze, 
> how they burst, and why leaving a faucet running is important. The reality is 
> counter intuitive and I had not a clue. We had a huge flood at Takoma Village 
> this week and missed an element that would have helped us slow the water flow 
> while we located someone who knew how to turn of the water to that pipe.
> The first thing we should have done was to open the faucet outside to release 
> water pressure in the pipe.
> Since we all have pipes close to exterior walls, and some have pipes leading 
> to outside faucets and they may or may not be insulated sufficiently for very 
> sub-zero weather I thought is might be helpful to everyone. And it's 
> well-written. And I hope worth the length.
> Excerpt from the New York Times:
> It helps to understand how pipes burst. The way that happens doesn’t follow 
> conventional wisdom, which says water turns to ice and pushes outward against 
> the wall of the pipe and causes a rupture. The blockage grows along the 
> length of the pipe and acts like a piston, causing elevated water pressure 
> when the faucet is turned off, and that’s what causes the rupture. So if you 
> can relieve the pressure downstream of the blockage by allowing the tiniest 
> little drip at the faucet, then the ice blockage can grow and it won’t 
> rupture the pipe.
> So when it gets really cold I should turn on every faucet in the house?
> You can be strategic about it. If the water is being fed from the center of 
> the house and you’re not abandoning your home, those pipes are O.K. But if a 
> pipe goes into your crawl space, or if it’s close to an outside wall or 
> especially a vent, it’s a real good candidate for bursting in really cold 
> weather.
> So if you’re concerned about your pipes possibly bursting and you have a 
> faucet with a gearshift lever, when you turn it on so it trickles, make sure 
> it’s warm water so you’re getting both the hot and cold. If you run it 
> overnight on a cold night and lose a quart of water, nobody will complain.
> The trickling-water idea is obviously for when I have good reason to think 
> those pipes are in danger. If I insulate those pipes, I can breathe a little 
> easier, right?
> Yes, but a poor pipe insulation job is worse than no insulation. If you’re 
> going to insulate, don’t leave blank spots, especially at elbows and T’s, 
> where pipes can be more vulnerable to freezing. And make sure all the 
> fittings are insulated as well. There are also thermostat-controlled heating 
> cables you can buy at the hardware store.
> You want to hear something really juicy?
> Nope. Well, O.K. Go.
> Ask a plumber whether hot or cold pipes burst more frequently, and they’ll 
> all tell you it’s the hot water pipe.
> And that’s because . . .
> They’ll give you a whole bunch of different answers, but the real answer is 
> the toilet. The guts of a standard toilet actually function as a 
> pressure-relief device. If the water pressure rises in the pipes, the ball 
> cock allows a drip of water to leak out into the tank. Hot water systems 
> don’t have anything like that, so they’re more at risk.
> What if I forget one faucet in the house and I wake up and no water comes out 
> of it when I turn it on, but the pipe hasn’t blown yet?
> O.K., here’s an important thing. If that happens, it’s critical not to close 
> the faucet. Ice has created a blockage and it’s still growing toward the 
> fixture. If you shut the faucet, there’s nowhere for the pressure to go, and 
> it can burst. If you leave it open, even slightly, you’re O.K.
> And then what? Grab a propane torch and pray I don’t burn down my house while 
> I’m warming up the pipes?
> I wouldn’t recommend anything stronger than a hair dryer. And the nice thing 
> about leaving the faucet open is that you can hear it running once you’ve got 
> it going again.
> Are there any areas other than crawl spaces and exterior walls where I should 
> inspect the pipes more carefully?
> The hose bibb.
> I’m not sure I know what that is.
> The thing you hook up the hose to on the outside of the house. If cold 
> weather’s coming, make sure there are no hoses attached, or they can do a 
> real number on the house. With the newer style of bibb, if the hose is 
> attached, you have water in the cold part of the wall, rather than air. This 
> is much more a problem with new frost-protected hose bibbs, because people 
> think frost-protected means they can leave the hose attached, and that’s a 
> big mistake.
> And be aware of cracks or gaps where cold air might come in and hit a pipe. 
> Get a few cans of foam insulation and look for things that are really cold, 
> then try to foam every gap or seam in that area so the cold air isn’t leaking 
> on the pipes.
> It usually takes more than cold temperatures to freeze a pipe. More typically 
> you need really cold temperatures, and cold wind blowing on it. There’s a lot 
> of forgiveness in a plumbing system. Just don’t say that to someone whose 
> pipes burst.
> Sharon
> ----
> Sharon Villines
> Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC
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