With the wild and wonderful weather we boast about in Northern Virginia, it leaves many homes wide open to plumbing problems during winter temperature swells. It's not unusual to start a week in the mid-60s and end it in the low 20s - which is why knowing how to handle frozen pipes is a must if you call NoVA home.
Before we talk about how to prevent and fix frozen pipe problems, let's discuss what they are and how they happen. As the name suggests, frozen pipes are caused by water left in pipes in your home freezing when temps drop below freezing point (32-degrees Fahrenheit). As water freezes, it expands. In the same way potholes seemingly appear overnight on 95 South (thanks VDOT), expanding water causes the breakdown of the materials encasing it. In the case of many homeowners, that's the piping surrounding the exterior walls of their home.
"Water damage from bursting pipes is one of the most common homeowner's insurance claims, with an average claim cost of about $5,000." So how do we identify if a pipe is frozen? Awesome question - an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure - or in this case, your basement's carpeting. If a pipe is covered in frost or is showing signs of slight bulbing, it's a good sign you've got a frozen pipe issue. Another tell-tail sign of impending pipe doom is if you go to run the water and nothing comes out of the spigot. If it's bitterly cold outside, odds are, you're looking at a potential water-fueled disaster.
"Ok - they're frozen. Now what?" Don't panic - not all frozen pipes burst, and you can reverse the process if you act in a timely manner. The first step - shut off the water supply. “It’s not the frozen pipes that really get plumbers’ phones ringing, it’s the thawing pipes that leak and spew water after a hard freeze.” You see, if the frozen pipe has already burst, the ice may be acting as a plug and thawing that plug may release the water into your home.
Water supply off? Great - grab a space heater, a blow dryer, and some towels - leave the blow torch out of this - we don't want fire and water damage. Start warming up the pipes the show size of freezing. We want to relieve the pressure in the pipe and reassess the damage.
The first step from above applies here - turn off the water supply to prevent further flooding. That's when you call Marines Plumbing. We'll need to get this fixed and fast - your home needs water, and you need a working plumbing system to get it, but you won't have running water as long as that water supply is off.
While we're on our way, try to remove as much of the water as possible to mitigate further water damage. If the damage is too severe, it's probably a good time to get the insurance man involved.
An important takeaway from frozen pipe prevention is making sure everyone in your home knows where the water shutoff valve is and how to turn it on and off. Not only should homeowners know where the valve is located, but they should also have it inspected the next time a plumber is on site. If your home has an older gate-style valve, it might be worth the money ($200 to $400) to have it replaced with a more reliable ball valve.
Gate valves are prone to sticking when you need them the most, so it’s a good idea to exercise them once a year by rotating them back and forth.