It’s well-known that water freezes at 32°F, but how does water freezing in a pipe result in pipe failure? Water is one of the few substances that actually expands in volume when undergoing the phase change from a liquid to a solid. Pipes can burst when water freezes and expands in volume radially (radial failure). Also, if water freezes near a fixture forming a blockage, a linear failure can occur. Water remaining between an ice blockage and a fixture can get compressed during the freezing process, which can cause hydraulic failure of the pipe linearly or at the fixture.
An effective way to prevent pipes from freezing is to make sure your home’s interior heating system is working properly. When a home is properly heated, water pipes located interior to a home’s thermal envelope typically don’t freeze. Some tips to follow re your heating system:
- Check the controls/thermostat for battery life and any programmable control temperature settings.
- Make sure the home heating system is functional. For oil based systems, make sure the tank is full and that the fuel filter has been maintained. For a fuel gas based system, make sure maintenance is done before the heating season. For electric and/or forced air systems, check and replace air filters.
- If your home’s heating system is undersized and can’t heat the house to a desired temperature, it may be a good idea to consider secondary heating devices such as space heaters.
- If a secondary heating device is used, remember to follow all safety recommendations and warnings to insure proper use.
When temperatures get increasingly low, refrain from turning down your thermostat to avoid increased heating costs. Once a heating system gets behind a transient thermal heat loss, it may not have the time or ability to catch up and heat the house adequately to prevent frozen pipes. Consider actually raising the thermostat in advance of abnormally cold weather predictions. Ultimately, the temporary extra costs to heat the house at a higher temperature greatly outweigh the costs of a burst pipe, water remediation, and/or lost personal property.