How to Check For Frozen Pipes

Water damage restoration can get pricey. That’s why it’s best to understand your risk of water damage. Don’t get stuck with expensive water damage repair and water damage cleanup. A burst pipe can result from frozen pipes, so you must keep pipes from freezing.

Here’s a few tips to help you identify if your pipes have frozen:

  • Turn on each water supply faucet individually (both hot and cold) to ensure that there is a steady stream of water present.
  • If the flow of water is slowed, or worse, there is no flow, then it is likely that your pipe has frozen.
  • Identify the blockage (probably the area of most exposure) and use a blow dryer (do NOT use an open flame torch!) to heat the supply line, while leaving the faucet open.
  • Continue heating the pipe until there is a steady flow of water.

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Floods & Storage

Many homes use basements and some bedrooms for storing items.  Two mistakes that often occur are homeowners storing too many items, with some boxes being empty or filled with trash and two, they store items so high and so tightly packed to the wall that they can never see if there is a problem lurking.  Pictured below is an example of a home that had a minor leak that went unnoticed for several weeks because of boxes stored from floor to near ceiling.  The leak then caused damaged, not only to the stored items, but also the walls and floor.  If the home would have had a better system for storing such items, most of this issue could have been remediated and repaired prior to causing extensive loss to building materials and personal contents.  Too many packed items is also a major fire hazard and if you can not afford to part with any item, then considering a storage unit may be helpful in times like this.

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Keeping Pipes From Bursting

New homeowners may have heard that winterization is important, but in the hubbub of your first year living in a home you own (finally!), it can be easy to overlook the need to prepare for the cold weather ahead. After all, it’s just not something renters deal with; prepping pipes for winter is often the landlord’s job. Ideally, you should winterize your pipes in the fall, before winter seriously sets in. But if you’ve forgotten and all of a sudden you’re in the middle of a deep freeze, there’s still time to prevent disaster.

Here are some easy techniques to save your pipes from bursting:

Turn On Your Faucets
If the temperatures have dropped into freezing and intend to stay there, turning on your faucets — both indoors and out — can keep water moving through your system and slow down the freezing process. There’s no need to waste gallons of water: Aim for about five drips per minute.

 
Open Cabinet Doors

During cold weather, open any cabinet doors covering plumbing in the kitchen and bathroom. This allows the home’s warm air to better circulate, which can help prevent the exposed piping from freezing. While this won’t help much with pipes hidden in walls, ceilings, or under the home, it can keep water moving and limit the dangerous effects of freezing weather.

Wrap Your Pipes
If your pipes are already on their merry way towards freezing, wrapping them with warm towels might do the trick. You can cover them with the towels first and then pour boiling water on top, or use already-wet towels — if your hands can stand the heat (use gloves for this). This should help loosen the ice inside and get your system running again.

Pull Out Your Hairdryer

A hairdryer (or heat gun) can be a godsend when your pipes are freezing. If hot rags aren’t doing the trick, try blowing hot air directly on the pipes. Important note: You don’t want to use a blow torch or anything that produces direct flames, which can damage your pipes and turn a frozen pipe into an even worse disaster. You’re trying to melt the ice — not your pipes.

Frozen Pipes? Shut Off The Water
Have your pipes already frozen? Turn off the water immediately. (Hopefully you know where the master shut-off is, but if not, now’s the time to find it!)

Make sure to close off any external water sources, like garden hose hookups. This will prevent more water from filling the system, adding more ice to the pile, and eventually bursting your pipes — the worst-case scenario. This also will help when the water thaws; the last thing you want after finally fixing your frozen pipes is for water to flood the system — and thus, your home.

Always Tomorrow

Too many times issues in our homes are overlooked and perceived as minor.  But even minor issues left to dwell and fester over time can become major problems.  Recently we had dealt with a water loss in a kitchen which originated under the sink.  The customer decided to put towels down to catch the water instead of contacting a plumber.  Now this may seem like one in a million, but things like this and many other examples of not dealing with home repairs occur more often than not.  The leak finally caused the cabinet to rot, but mold grew not only on the cabinet, but behind the wall and onto the two cabinets next to the sink base.  Additionally, the leak caused severe damage to the flooring and the basement joists, all of which were beyond remediation, and needed complete replacement.  This small leak, turned into a job that cost these home owners eleven thousand dollars.  Thats’s because they needed to pay for mold remediation, cabinet and flooring replacement, joist replacement, drywall and tiling work to be redone and a considerable amount of painting.  Even if you’re issue seems small, don’t let it grow into a major problem by saying, “I’ll deal with it tomorrow.”

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Tips To Prevent Pipes From Freezing

Until recently, not many people knew what an Arctic Vortex is, but with one bearing down on the northern U.S. over the next few days, everybody’s talking about it. As it brings record-breaking cold, here’s what you need to know to keep your pipes from freezing.

Be Prepared

“Preparation is key,” says Pat Porzio, heating ventilation and air conditioning manager for Russo Brothers Plumbing in East Hanover, NJ. “Cut some blocks out of foam insulation to block off foundation vents leading to crawl spaces and know where your water shutoff is located in case a pipe breaks,” Porzio advises. Another item homeowners should have on hand is a temporary patch kit (sold at home centers) to seal off burst pipes as they wait for favorable weather to make a permanent repair or to hire a plumber to sweat in a new length of pipe. “Above all,” Porzio says,” find out which local plumbers are equipped and ready to handle frozen pipes.”

 Turn Up The Thermostat

If you live in an old house built over an uninsulated crawl space, this isn’t the time to worry about your heating bill. Turning up your thermostat will increase the air temperature in the crawlspace by projecting heat energy through the floor into the space. Plan on insulating and air sealing the space.

Install Fiberglass

Take a ride to the nearest home center and pick up a package or two of unfaced fiberglass insulation. While you’re there, get a set of heavy duty disposable coveralls, a dust mask, work gloves and a package of fresh utility knife blades. Don the protective work wear, load the fresh blades in the knife and assess your insulation needs in the attic, crawl space or other out-of-the-way place installing insulation over poorly-protected pipes. This is one scenario where neatness doesn’t count, just get the insulation where it needs to go.

Use Foam Board To Insulate Large Areas

Got a really big area to protect? Keep the heat in with a rough-and-ready barrier built with foam board. Faced or unfaced foam board will work, especially if this is a temporary set up. If you’ve never worked with foam board, it’s easy to cut. Mark its surface with a carpenter’s pencil or a Sharpie pen. Score to the depth of a utility knife (if need be, score it from both sides) and snap it on the line. Hold it to wood framing with 1-1/4-in or 1-5/8-in. coarse-thread drywall screws.

Install A Heating Cable

Install a heat trace cable to keep a cold pipe from freezing. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the packaging for how to do this. Some heat tapes are wrapped around the pipe, others simply run along it. If you can’t find heat trace cable at your local home center, try an electrical supply house. Sometimes this cable is cut to length from a roll, in which case you may have to buy a kit (or separate parts) to convert into a working heat trace cable. In other cases, the cable is sold ready to use, with one end safely terminated and insulated and the other end with an electrical plug.

Place A Space Heater

You can keep unprotected pipes above freezing by simply placing an electric heater near them. Remember, the goal is not to make the space toasty warm and comfortable. It’s to keep the water in the pipe above freezing.

Turn Off The Water

In the worst case, turn off the main water valve while the house is unoccupied or while you sleep. If a pipe freezes and breaks, the spillage is limited only to the water in the pipe.

Open Cabinet Doors

It’s not unusual for plumbing running to a kitchen sink on an exterior wall to be extremely vulnerable because the wall is not insulated. Open the cabinet doors along that wall to project heat into the space. Place an electric heater in front of the cabinets for an extra measure of cold protection.

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Checking For Toilet Leaks

Water leaks account for approximately 12% of all water use in the average American home, and the toilet is one of the most likely places to find them. Sometimes it is easy to tell that your toilet is leaking – you hear the sound of running water or a faint hissing or trickling. But many times, water flows through the tank silently, which is why these leaks are often overlooked.

How to check your toilet for leaks

  1. Remove the toilet tank lid.
  2. Drop one dye tablet or 10 drops of food coloring into the tank. (Dye tablets are often available for free through local water providers).
  3. Put the lid back on. Do not flush.
  4. Wait at least 10-15 minutes, and then look in the bowl. If you see colored water, you have a leak. If not, you don’t.

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Window Well Leaks

Basement window wells that are unprotected or poorly constructed can leak into a basement causing flooding and mold growth.  Windows which are sub-level to the soil on the exterior need to be protected with window well guards or have drainage systems installed.  Windows, like the one shown below, which are above grade but have cracking and are long past their life span, should be replaced.  When water leaks into the basement behind drywall, you can replace the window to stop the water intrusion, but the interior walls will still need to be removed adding to the repair cost.  It is wise to inspect the surrounding areas of your home every month or at least every other month to avoid such damages, and do whatever is needed to prevent an occurrence such as this one show here.

 

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