There are precautions every home owner needs to take to prepare for the potential damage that changing winter temperatures can cause to a home’s pipes and by extension, its HVAC system and utilities. We have all heard of people whose pipes have burst in the wintertime. Some basic Home Utility Maintenance can prevent that. What steps have you taken to prevent your pipes from rupturing?
Many people mistakenly believe that the formation of ice in a pipe pushes against the pipe’s walls and makes it burst. That actually is not true. While ice formations in pipes form blockages, it is not at the site of the blockage that the pipe ruptures. What, then, does cause pipes to burst in cold weather? To answer that, we first need to understand how temperature swings cause contraction, expansion and breakage.
In cold weather as water cools its molecules slow their movements. As movement slows, the molecules get closer together, or denser. Water molecules are polarized and their electrons tend to be on one side of the molecule. This creates a potential that attracts them to other water molecules with electrons on the opposite side. This forms their Hydrogen Bond. As water gets colder and denser, it begins to compete with the molecules’ desire to form these bonds. When temperatures reach below 3.98°C to 0°C, bonding wins out and this leads to expansion. This expansion continues until ice begins to form. Eventually it may create blockages. In water pipes, as long as the water is upstream from the blockage it can retreat to its source so pressure problems are not going to happen. But downstream this continued freezing and expansion causes water pressure to build between the blockage and the faucet on the end. Eventually it is this water pressure increase that leads to a pipe rupture.
Temperature swings in winter can cause a strain on underground pipes because of the continual stress of contraction and expansion the lines experience. When temperatures change greatly in a short period of time, the stress will rupture some pipes. Pipes inside the home are no different. When there are extreme dips in temperature expected, it is important to protect them and keep pipes warm. A burst pipe can do more than flood a room. A leak in the line to the humidifier inside your home comfort system can lead to A/C maintenance and repairs.
Pipes that are not installed inside protective insulation (such as those in basements, crawl spaces and attics) need to be wrapped with fiberglass sleeves that can be purchased at any home center or hardware store. Insulated sleeves and /or foam wrapping is vital for protecting your pipes as it slows the heat transfer process and keeps them warmer for a longer period of time. Any wall cracks or holes that allow cold air to flow in over pipes should be sought out, caulked and sealed. Leave sink cabinets open so heated air can flow inside. Leave faucets on ‘drip’ so the line is open and pressure will not build up in the pipe.
After a rough winter, schedule an appointment to have a certified HVAC technician perform a thorough A/C maintenance check on your system to ensure that no HVAC repairs are needed. A trained technician will inspect all components carefully for signs of wear and damage so any necessary HVAC troubleshooting can be done before hot weather begins. Then you can be assured that your system will function effectively and efficiently.