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Winter is upon us, and, depending on where you live in the country, that can mean sledding, skiing, cozy nights by the fire—and (oh no!) burst pipes. We polled a team of professionals about common causes of pipes bursting in winter and ideas for preventing this disaster. Here’s what they had to say.
Common Reasons Pipes Burst During Winter?

Ron Humes

Ron Humes is currently the VP of Operations Southeast Region for www.postmm.com, a full-service digital marketing company. He has been a realtor as well as an owner and principal broker of his own realty company for 20 years. he has also been a builder and owner of a remodeling company.
You know it is cold outside, but it is warm inside so it should be no problem.

Hold that thought.

Did you disconnect your hoses from your exterior water spigots? One of the most common reasons for burst water pipes is the hose you forgot to disconnect before the temperatures dropped. You watch the daytime high temps, but make certain you check the nighttime low temps. Water left in the spigots at the exterior of the home can freeze, burst, and quickly flood your interior.

Other exterior areas often left out of sight and out of mind include your crawlspace, your attic, and your garage. If you have plumbing pipes in these areas, you better have them winterized or properly insulated. They actually make a heated tape that can be wrapped around plumbing pipes in extreme climates to ensure they do not freeze. Close off those crawlspace vents that were opened in the summer to allow air exchange to reduce moisture and mold. Your concern now is to retain heat in the crawlspace.

Plumbing pipes exposed to the outside of your home are not the only pipes in jeopardy. You heat the interior of your home, but not all areas receive equal heating. What about interior areas that are shut off from your heat source? On extremely cold days, the plumbing pipes under your sink can be subjected to much colder temperatures than the space outside the cabinets. Consider leaving your cabinet doors open during these extremes to allow the hidden pipes to receive appropriate heat.

Exterior walls adjacent to finished living space are required to be insulated. Pipes in those walls should also be insulated, but gaps in the insulation can leave those areas at risk for freezing in the colder seasons. Unfortunately, you may only learn of these problem areas after a frozen pipe actually bursts and floods your wall and interior.

If you vacate a home during colder seasons, it would be wise to shut off the water and properly winterize your plumbing system and irrigations systems to eliminate the possibility of frozen and burst pipes. There are several steps in the process, and companies can be hired to complete the process if you are not confident with your ability to do so.

Pipes burst because they freeze. So, if arctic weather is headed your way, you’ll need to really watch out for some of the common ways pipes get too cold.

Our neighbors had a flooded basement every year because their outside spigot faced east and received very little sun. It would freeze and then burst, sending water pouring into their basement. Finally, they started using a shut off valve to that spigot and then draining the water out of it.

If you have a crawl space, make sure vents are closed during cold weather. Cold weather is one thing, but the wind will make matters much worse. If you can keep airflow down, there’s less of a risk your pipes will burst.

If the weather turns extremely cold, pipes can freeze even in your heated house. Small rooms, like bathrooms on exterior walls and especially corners of your house, are at the greatest risk. You may need to run a space heater in those places that get the coldest to prevent frozen pipes.

Common Reasons Pipes Burst During Winter?

Melanie Musson

Melanie Musson is a writer for HomeInsuranceRates.com. She lives in Montana and has experienced her fair share of polar vortexes.

Shayne Sherman

Shayne Sherman is the CEO of techloris.com, based in Brookline, Massachusetts. With over 11 years of experience in the industry, Shayne founded the company with the goal of providing unbiased reporting on the tech world. When he is not running TechLoris, Shayne spends time with his family and is a passionate practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
The most common reason for pipes bursting in the winter has to do with dropping temperatures. This can cause problems like weakening the pipes themselves, resulting in cracks and leaking once things thaw. But more commonly, frozen water in the pipes causes a blockage. That blockage will stop water that hasn’t frozen from being able to move through the pipes. Pressure builds and suddenly, the water has no choice but to force its way out – through the pipe.
The reason many homeowners’ pipes burst during the winter is due to the water freezing inside them. The water then expands, which increases the pressure on the pipes. At that point, the pipes can only handle so much added force, which leads them to burst.

If you live in an older house with pipes that have never been replaced, I recommend either doing so or properly insulating them before the cold weather kicks in to avoid costly problems.

Alex Berezowski

Alex Berezowski, Owner/General Manager of thefoundationexperts.com. Grew up in the construction and home improvement business and has worked his entire life specializing in foundation restoration, structural repair and foundation waterproofing. Alex has trained with Master European Masons for over 25 years as well as consulted with some of the best engineering firms in Canada.

Lindsey Marx

Lindsey Marx is a Content Strategist at bestcompany.com
In our kitchen where the pipes connect outside, if we leave the cabinets closed, the pipes freeze and burst because the water expands. However, if we leave the cabinets open so that the warm air can circulate in and around the pipes, it stops them from freezing and expanding and bursting.

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