Call: (773) 376 - 1110

15% OFF DEEP CLEANING - HOME OR BUSINESS!

ServiceMaster Restoration By Simons - Chicago - Oak Park/River Forest IL

ServiceMaster Cleaning By Simons - Skokie/Evanston/Wilmette/Northbrook/North Shore IL

ServiceMaster Restoration By Simons’ Ultimate Guide to Frozen and Burst Pipes

Man, has it been cold outside recently. With temperatures dropping well below zero in the past few weeks, residents in the Chicagoland area are facing major threats to home safety with frozen and burst pipes. When temperatures fall below zero degrees, pipes are incredibly vulnerable and cause incredible home damage. Since they can quickly turn into a very expensive problem for homeowners, the professionals at ServiceMaster Restoration by Simons have created this guide to give you a crash course in Pipe Freezing 101. Read on to learn how to prevent pipes from freezing, how to thaw pipes if they do freeze, and what to do if frozen pipes end up bursting and causing vast water damage to your home.

How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing

While you might think that Chicago homes would be built to withstand the cold, many do a poor job surviving the winter without significant damage. Within homes, there are areas where pipes are more likely to incur damage due to freezing temperatures. Some of these places include:

  • Outdoor areas (hose bibs, water lines to irrigation systems, wells or pools)
  • Unheated areas (garage, attic, crawl space or basement)
  • Cabinets, where pipes cannot get enough heat when cabinet doors are closed (under the kitchen or bathroom sink)
  • Uninsulated exterior walls

Once you’ve determined what pipes may be susceptible to freezing, you will want to take action to protect those pipes when temperatures plummet:

  • Open cabinets. This allows the warm air to circulate around pipes.
  • If there are pipes in the attic, open the door to allow warm air to move upwards
  • Let water trickle from faucets. The constantly flowing water will prevent pipes from freezing. The small amount of water you waste is much less than the cost of a plumbing repair or the amount of water that will escape if a pipe bursts.

These tips may get you through a handful of cold nights, but in general, we recommend preemptively insulating pipes during your home winterizing process.

How to Insulate Pipes

Insulating pipes is by far the best way to prevent pipes from freezing. Here’s how:

After you’ve identified what pipes need insulation, visit the hardware store and pick up your insulating material of choice. You can use:

  • Tubular sleeve insulation
  • Fiberglass insulation
  • Duct tape
  • Foil insulation tape
  • Heating blanket tape
  • In a pinch, use newspaper and duct tape

Prepare the pipes. A simple wipe down with soapy water will do the trick.

Wrap the pipes with the material you’ve chosen. Be sure to cover all exposed surfaces. Secure the edges and corners with duct tape. If you use fiberglass insulation, wrap the insulation with sheets of plastic or duct tape as well.

Other Ways to Prevent Pipe Freezing

If you have pipes in your crawl space, you may want to:

  • Insulate the outer walls of your crawl space with foam board
  • Close the vents (just during the freeze; crawl spaces need to breathe)
  • Run a very low-temp space heater on the lowest setting in the crawl space (away from all flammable materials)

If you have a well, you can:

  • Insulate the exposed pipes
  • Install a low-watt heat lamp designed for this purpose
  • Cover the well to keep heat inside and cold out (look for fiberglass rocks or well covers at the hardware store)

If you have an irrigation system or pool/pond lines, you should:

  • Drain the lines
  • Use the blow out method to remove remaining water from the lines

If you don’t have time to insulate pipes, consider using heat tape, a heat lamp or a low-watt bulb to heat the space where the pipes are located, but be mindful of fire hazards and install with care. Never use a blow torch or a heat gun when thawing pipes, and exercise care when using a heat lamp.

How to Tell If Your Pipes Are Frozen

Sometimes, you won’t be able to protect your pipes until it is too late, and other times, pipes will freeze even despite your best efforts. If you suspect your pipes are frozen, you’ll need to take action right away. But how do you know for sure? Here are four major tip-offs:

  • You don’t have any running water, or you turn on the water and only a trickle comes out of the faucet
  • You notice frost or condensation on your pipes
  • Pipes feel frozen to the touch
  • The pipe is visibly cracked or split in a place you never noticed before.

Once you’ve confirmed a pipe is frozen, you’ll need to figure out where the frozen section is located. Oftentimes, an entire pipe won’t freeze – instead, just a section of a pipe will freeze ranging from a few inches to a foot. Since pipes with greater exposure are more likely to freeze, first check under the sinks, in the crawl space or basement, in the attic, along the main pipeline to and from your yard, and any other exterior pipes.

If one faucet is fine and another in a different room on the same floor isn’t, the pipe is frozen somewhere between the main line and that room’s piping. If the faucets work on one floor but not another, the frozen pipe is located where the floors separate. If no faucets work, a section of the pipe near the main water line may be frozen.

Can’t find the cold section of pipe? It’s probably hidden in the wall or yard. Outdoor water lines can be trickier to catch because you probably don’t use the pipes leading to a pool or hot tub, irrigation systems or outdoor hoses during the winter. Inspect outdoor lines once in a while if temps stay low.

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

Once you’ve found the section that’s frozen, you’ll need to carefully thaw the pipe without causing it to burst. Try the following:

  • Aim a hair dryer on low or medium (not high) heat at the section of pipe
  • Run a space heater on low—but be careful not to place it too close to the pipe
  • Wrap the pipe with towels dipped in warm water (you’ll need to replace them periodically)
  • Wrap the pipe with a heating pad on low or medium (not high)

Every once in a while, try running the faucet to see if you’ve been successful. When water is flowing once again, take steps (see above) to prevent the pipe from freezing again.

How to Tell if a Frozen Pipe Has Cracked

The danger of frozen pipes is cracking and bursting. Water expands when frozen, and pipes may crack under the pressure of the expansion.

Other signs of a leak include:

  • A heavy flow of water, puddles on the floor and/or obvious water damage in the home
  • The sound of rushing water inside your wall or floor
  • Hot or cold spots inside the wall or floor
  • Water stains on the wall or ceiling

Unfortunately, a lot of cracked pipes happen in hidden places where you can’t see evidence of the leak. After thawing your pipes, you will want to keep an eye on your water bill. If you see a water bill spike, there’s a very good chance you’ve got a hidden leak. A restoration professional will use leak detection equipment to locate the leak.

What to Do If You Have a Burst Pipe

When frozen pipes burst, you have an urgent and costly emergency on your hands. You’ll need to spring into action quickly after you notice a burst pipe in your home. Your priorities are first, to stop and/or minimize the potential water damage and then, to facilitate clean up. Here are three things we recommend doing immediately after a pipe bursts:

  1. Shut off your main water valve and, if necessary your electricity
  2. Call a restoration company or plumber immediately
  3. Start removing water as best you can with towels to mitigate the growth and spread of mold or mildew

ServiceMaster Restoration By Simons is a MBE/WBE certified firm and family-run company serving Chicago, Oak Park, River Forest, and the North Shore.  ServiceMaster Restoration By Simons provides disaster restoration services including Water & Flood Damage Restoration, Fire & Smoke Damage Restoration, Mold Remediation and a wide range of interior specialty cleaning including Hoarder & Clutter Cleaning, Post-Construction Cleaning, Carpet Cleaning and Upholstery Cleaning to residential and commercial customers residing in Chicago, Oak Park-River Forest and the North Shore.  For more information, give us a call at 773-376-1110 or visit servicemasterbysimons.com.

Sam Simon
Sam Simon
As Managing Director of ServiceMaster by Simons, Sam has over 20 years of experience in the disaster restoration industry. Sam holds the cleaning industry's highest technical designation as an IICRC Master Water Restorer and Master Fire Restorer and has many more designations. His vast knowledge of "best practices" in the Water & Fire Damage Restoration industry makes him an invaluable resource to this company and to the clients he serves.