Water has a unique characteristic – it becomes 8.3 percent less dense as it freezes, expands and becomes a mineral. As water freezes and expands, it takes up 9 percent more space than it does in its liquid form. So when water in a pipe freezes, the ice blockage causes a buildup of pressure downstream, between the ice and the faucet. Consequently, this pressure can make a pipe burst and spew up to 250 gallons of water per day. This phenomenon is often the cause of water damaged documents and other property damage. Each year, more than 250,000 homes and businesses fall victim to burst pipes, and document restoration is often the only way to salvage wet documents.
Preventing Burst Pipes
Water in pipes usually freezes when there is poor insulation in a building, a thermostat is set too low or there’s a quick drop in temperature. The best way to save money on document restoration and the headaches that come with a burst pipe is to prevent the disaster from happening in the first place.
1. Prepare your home before the temperature drops. Before it gets cold enough for your pipes to even think about freezing, insulate those in the attic and crawl spaces. If you live in an area that often has freezing temperatures, wrapping thermostatically controlled heat cables or heat tape around your pipes in addition to insulation can provide an extra layer of protection. Inspect the exterior of your home and look for air leaks in areas close to pipes, and seal them with caulk or insulation. These areas can include openings for electrical wires, pipes, dryer vents and windows. Disconnect your garden hoses and, if possible, shut off the water to and drain the pipes that lead to outside faucets.
2. Take extra precautions during freezing temperatures. When the forecast calls for freezing weather, turn on the hot and cold faucets in your home so they trickle – it’s more difficult for moving water to freeze. Avoid turning down your thermostat at night and when you leave the home, and open the doors to cabinets that hide pipes (like in the kitchen) and appliances.
3. Prepare your home before going on a trip so you don’t come back to an unexpected disaster. If you plan a winter holiday, shut off the water and drain the pipes. Then program your thermostat so the temperature in your home never goes lower than 55 degrees. If you live in a particularly cold area, have a friend or neighbor you trust check the temperature inside your home every day to make sure it’s staying warm enough.
When the Pipes Burst
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, pipes freeze. When this happens:
- Turn the faucets to the “on” position, even if no water comes out, and call a plumber right away.
- If it’s safe, use a hair dryer to warm the frozen pipe as close to the faucet as possible. Work your way to the coldest part of the pipe.
If the pipes in your home freeze and burst:
- Turn on the faucets.
- Shut off the water to your home at the main shutoff valve.
- Call a plumber.
- Avoid using electric appliances or equipment in the area where there is flooding.
If you have water damaged documents because of a burst pipe, including wet photographs or books, call a document restoration company as soon as possible. The specialists can help you dry out the items in a way that prevents warping, shrinking, crinkling, mold and further damage.
This guest post is courtesy of Joe Perko, Director of Field Services at Rapid Refile. Rapid Refile is a recognized leader in the restoration of water damaged documents, vacuum-freeze drying, mold remediation and fire restoration services for businesses and individuals.