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How to Check for Frozen Pipes and Broken Hose Bibs to Avoid Basement Flooding

How to Check for Frozen Pipes and Broken Hose Bibs to Avoid Basement Flooding

Edmonton, Alberta is cold during the winter months, reaching a low of -40C at times. For people who love winter activities, it’s a perfect place to live. Unfortunately, the climate can present a host of issues for homeowners including frozen pipes and hose bibs. Damage to your home and plumbing caused by a frozen pipe that bursts and causes basement flooding can cost thousands of dollars to repair. Knowing how to identify a frozen pipe or broken hose bib can help reduce the damage done so you don’t have to break the bank to have it repaired.

Why Do Pipes Freeze in the Winter?

Frozen pipes are an unfortunately common occurrence in Edmonton because of the extremely low temperatures in the winter. You may not realize this but, plumbing pipes can begin to freeze at a temperature of -6C, which may seem like a non-concern in your home where the heat is on, but remember that your pipes may be exposed to much colder temperatures due to their location in or outside of your home. In fact, there are three distinct reasons you may experience frozen pipes this winter including:

  • The pipe is exposed to the elements. This happens most often in fixtures such as the hose bib, sprinkler system, or swimming pool lines.
  • Pipes are located in areas of your home like crawl spaces, kitchen cabinets, garages, basements, and attics where there is no direct heat source.
  • The pipes have little or no insulation wrapped around them to keep them from freezing. 

How Can I Tell If My Pipes Are Frozen?

If your pipes freeze in Edmonton it will be quite obvious, you want to be sure. The first sign will be that there is either a small trickle or no water at all coming out of the faucet. Some other common signs of frozen pipes include:

  • A layer of frost has formed on the outside of a pipe.
  • Icicles forming around pipe joints or cracks in the pipe.
  • Weird sounds coming from the pipes like banging and whistling.
  • Bubbling in the toilet when you flush.
  • Dampness and water spots on walls and ceilings.
  • Puddles of water on the floor under the pipes.
  • And, less commonly, odd odors coming from the plumbing can indicate a clogged pipe due to ice.

Do Frozen Pipes Always Burst? 

You may think that if a pipe freezes that it will automatically burst, but this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, while the water is frozen, the pipe may not leak or burst. It typically takes a few days for pipes to freeze and burst due to the expansion of the ice inside the pipe. The resulting pressure presses on the pipes, pushing them to a breaking point. Rapid freezing and thawing, such as when the temperature drops dramatically and warms up again in the spring, is the main cause of burst pipes. Another common cause of burst pipes is when there is an attempt to thaw them using a heat gun or hair dryer to thaw the pipe too quickly. This should be done slowly and carefully. The sudden thaw can cause the pressure to build behind the freeze, causing stress on the pipes.

What Happens When Frozen Pipes Burst?

If a pipe freezes and bursts, water will flow freely from the pipe causing water to spill into your basement. The result is a wet mess that can cause serious damage to your home’s structure, HVAC system, and anything you’re storing there. The short-term water issues are just the beginning, however. If the moisture and water remain for an extended period of time, mold and mildew can develop, which can cause respiratory issues, allergies, and other health problems. Plus, a burst pipe means your home will be without water until the frozen pipes can be repaired.

Steps to Avoid A Burst Frozen Pipe and a Costly Repair

Frozen pipes are an extreme inconvenience at best and a serious issue at worst. To avoid extensive damage to your home, it’s vital to thaw your pipes relatively quickly. However, you must take care as thawing pipes can cause a host of other issues If you suspect that your pipes are frozen, it’s important to take some simple steps right away including

  1. Turn on the Faucet – Moving water will help thaw a freeze, so even a small drip coming out of the faucet can help protect your pipes from bursting if they’re frozen. This is because the pressure in the pipe is reduced due to the flow of water.
  2. Slowly Apply Heat – Time and patience are required for thawing pipes. Remember that thawing pipes too quickly can result in an immediate burst. Instead, use a space heater, or thermostatically controlled heat tape to slowly thaw the ice. If you use a hair dryer, keep it at least 15.24 cm away from the pipe and move it back and forth to avoid rapid thawing.
  3. Continue to Warm the Pipes – Whether you’re using a hair dryer, heat tape, or heater, don’t turn off the heat source until your water is fully restored and flowing. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep the area warm, even if the pipes aren’t frozen.
  4. Keep the Faucet Running – During and after your attempts at thawing the pipes, keep the faucet turned on, at least a little, to help clear the ice. If you run your water during severe cold spells, you may also avoid a freeze altogether.

Remember, slow and steady is the way to go when you are working on frozen pipes. In most cases, pipes will thaw within a half hour, or so. But, the time it will take depends on the temperature, the extent of the freeze, and where the frozen pipe is located. 

What Should I Do If I Can’t Get My Indoor Pipes Unthawed?

As a homeowner, you have to be able to think on your feet to handle the unexpected, such as frozen pipes. But, some jobs can be overwhelming and difficult to do on your own, especially when you have to deal with frigid temperatures and unfamiliar tools and techniques. Don’t go it alone, it could end up costing you more in the long run. To ensure your pipes are completely unthawed, it’s best to contact a plumbing professional like Always Plumbing & Heating. We have abundant experience with Edmonton’s weather and its effects on plumbing. Our certified technicians know exactly what to do to get your pipes cleared without further damage.

Why Won’t the Water Flow From My Outdoor Faucet?

Due to direct exposure to frigid temperatures, wind, ice, and snow, your outdoor faucet, also called a hose bib, is vulnerable to freezing. Oftentimes, water remains in the hose bib, and as the temperature drops, the water freezes, creating pressure within the pipe and restricting the water. This is more prevalent with older exterior faucets but can happen anytime, even if your home is well-insulated. The problem is that if the frozen pipe isn’t thawed, it can result in a burst pipe and flooding in your basement. 

Often hose bibs have frozen over winter and thawed naturally which can lead to the situation going undetected. If you are lucky, there is not any damage. Unfortunately, this can cause fractures in the hose bib and the components inside the wall. What happens frequently is when the garden hose is hooked up in the spring and turned on to water, the water may appear to have a sluggish water flow (or no flow). When this happens, potentially the water is going into the basement and it can be a huge disaster! Especially if the hose was turned on for a while and left running. This happens a lot and scarily, this can also happen even if the water pressure from the hose appears normal. 

In order to prevent this scenario at your home, it is advisable to create a habit every spring to have one person in the basement near where the hose bib is (remove ceiling panels if possible), and the other person outside. Then turn on the tap, and communicate with each other as to whether or not any leaks are noticed. 

How to Thaw a Frozen Hose Bib

Although you may not be using the water outside your home during the colder months, you shouldn’t ignore a frozen hose bib. It’s important to try to thaw the pipes so you don’t experience a burst pipe. One technique for thawing your frozen hose bib is as follows:

  • Open the hose bib spigot to allow water to begin flowing out of the faucet. Even if there is no water flow, leave the spigot open so the water can flow once you begin the thawing process.
  • Wrap towels or rags around the hose bib’s base, behind the spout. This will act as a type of scarf to warm and insulate the pipe.
  • Slowly pour boiling water over the towel until it’s saturated.
  • Continue to pour the boiling water over the cloth, until you see the water begin trickling out of the faucet. 
  • You can also use a hair dryer or heat tape, as mentioned above, to help facilitate a speedier thaw.
  • Remember to keep the hose bib faucet open until the water flows normally.

Again, if you’re unsure of what to do, or you feel the freeze is worse than you first thought, it’s best to call someone to help. A licensed plumber with experience dealing with frozen hose bibs in Edmonton is vital. You can count on the expertise of Always Plumbing & Heating to get your outdoor faucet thawed the right way. 

Are Your Interior Pipes or Outside Hose Bib Frozen?

The last thing that you want is for your home to be damaged due to a burst pipe. But, you must note that Edmonton’s climate isn’t kind to unprotected plumbing. That means that frozen and burst pipes are an all too often occurrence. We have more than two decades of experience taking care of plumbing issues throughout Edmonton. If you have frozen pipes, whether indoors or out. Whether the pipes in your basement are frozen, or your hose bib is, don’t hesitate to contact us right away. We’ll send a highly-trained technician out to evaluate the issue and thaw the pipes so you can avoid a flooded basement and damage to your home.

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