One of the most damaging and least expected disasters that can happen in your home or business is a burst pipe. Pipes can burst as the water inside them freezes and expands. Burst pipes affect 250,000 American homes each year. Up to 250 gallons of water can escape through a crack just an eighth of an inch wide, so it’s no wonder the average homeowner damage claim (according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety) is over $5,000.
Here are some things you can do to prevent a huge expense from burst pipes:
Drain them dry
Prior to winter, drain and disconnect garden hoses. Shut off the hose faucets (and any lawn irrigation/sprinkler systems) at the interior shutoff and drain them.
If you’re leaving your home for an extended period such as a vacation, consider shutting off the main and draining all your pipes.
Seal them off
Check around the building for gaps, cracks or holes that may let cold air in. Start outdoors and pay special attention to areas where pipes, cable and phone wires and other objects pass through the outer walls. If any are allowing air in, apply a caulk rated for cold weather. In the case of the foundation and other cement structures, seal any cracks you find, even if they aren’t currently letting in air or water, in winter these cracks can easily worsen as water seeps in and expands as it freezes.
Insulate them well
Make sure any area of the building with pipes adjacent to (or even near) an exterior wall has sufficient insulation. Pipes in garages, attics and crawl spaces are especially vulnerable. Remember those areas you caulked earlier? Check them from the inside, too. Are they properly insulated? If in doubt, add more.
Insulating the pipes themselves is a good idea, too. This will not only prevent freezing, it will reduce your energy costs (and water use) by keeping hot water hot and (you guessed it) cold water cold. The two simplest types of pipe insulation to use are the spiral wrap type and foam insulation sleeves. If you’re dealing with a sudden, drastic cold snap, you can even use newspapers and duct tape in a pinch.
Warm them up
It may make sense to wrap heat tape or heat cables controlled by a thermostat on your pipes. These heat the pipe with electric heat elements. If you do install them, make sure they’re certified by Underwriters Laboratory or another Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory and follow all manufacturer instructions.
A less expensive way to keep the pipes heated is to ensure the area around them is warm. Never set your thermostat lower than 55 degrees, even if you plan to be away for an extended period. This will provide a “cushion” in case temperatures suddenly plunge. Remember the temperature in the area of the thermostat may be ten or more degrees different higher than the coldest temperature in the building.
If a sink is mounted to an exterior wall, you can keep the pipes inside from freezing by opening the cabinets, exposing the pipes to warm air.
Limit the damage
An automatic leak detection system may prevent thousands of dollars in water damage if a pipe bursts. The unit detects pressure changes as water leaves the system and shuts off the stream. Some units have “home” and “away” or “vacation” settings. For example, a home setting might let water run for 30 minutes but an away setting would shut water off after 30 seconds. Your insurance carrier may give you a discount on your premium if you install one.
If a pipe does burst, you’ll need to know where your water shutoffs are, so locate them ahead of time. Once the water is stopped, you’ll need a professional to help handle the water damage. A professional disaster recovery team will be able to act quickly, limiting the total cost and—because they have specialized skills, equipment and techniques—may even be able to save and restore water damaged items you thought were lost forever.
Remember: Drain, seal, insulate, warm to prevent burst pipes, and call in professionals to limit any damage that does occur. In the meantime, think spring!
LDR Cleaning and Restoration is one of the premier restoration companies in Rockford, Illinois and Southern Wisconsin. LDR provides restoration services from water damage, mold removal, fire damage restoration, storm and hail damage repair for commercial and residential properties. Capable of handling any size loss and working with all types of insurance providers, the LDR disaster team is available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. Click here to contact LDR, or call 1-888-874-7066.