13 November Exposed pipe and valve with a layer of frost over it, shown against a black background

How to Tell if Your Pipes Are Frozen

Posted by PlumbWize

There are many things to love about the winter season, however, from a plumbing perspective, it is a season for taking extra precaution against frozen pipes. Even with just one frozen pipe, this can cause immediate and long-term problems to your home’s plumbing. In this article, we will cover the dangers of frozen pipes, detecting frozen pipes signs, and even get into a bit of the science behind the conditions leading to frozen pipes. 

Let’s get started! 

 Close up of a frozen pipe showing pipe damage

At What Conditions Do Pipes Freeze?

As you may have noticed, pipes in the home rarely freeze all at once and some homes don’t even deal with frozen pipes at all. This is because there are certain conditions that make pipes more vulnerable to freezing, these include:

Outdoor Temperature and Tim

Once the outside temperature dips to -7 C or lower, the home’s pipes are susceptible to freezing. But, similar to how ice cubes take a while to form in the freezer, the water in the pipes would need to be exposed to this temperature for at least 6 consecutive hours before a frozen pipe problem develops.

Home Heating & Location of the Pipes

Pipes that are tucked away from the cold would have a less likelihood of freezing. The home’s heat and insulation are the reasons why inner pipes are less likely to freeze. Conversely, pipes on the exterior walls of the home are more likely to freeze – as well as the pipes located in uninsulated places such as the yard, the garage, the basement, crawl spaces, and so on.

The Material of the Pipes

The two main types of pipes in the home are made from copper or plastic. In general, copper pipes are more likely to freeze because it is a good conductor, meaning heat travelling through it can be lost rapidly.  

Insulation of the Pipes

Whether or not the pipe is insulated is another factor to look at when assessing vulnerability to freezing. Insulation can help keep the pipe closer to the temperature of the water inside the pipe instead of the temperature of the air outside. 

Presence of Still Water

Still water inside the pipe is more likely to freeze, therefore, getting rid of water from the pipes (i.e. shutting off the valves and draining the water) is recommended if you will be leaving your home for an extended period with the heat turned off. 

What Are Some Frozen Pipes Signs to Watch Out For?

If you suspect that a pipe is frozen, and the conditions around the pipe support freezing (as we’ve discussed in the previous section), then there’s a very high chance you’re dealing with a frozen pipe. In this case, to be absolutely sure, here are some frozen pipes signs that you should check for: 

1. The Lack of Water

The ice inside the pipes can either partially or completely obstruct the flow of water in your pipes, therefore, one or more faucets may have reduced or zero water flow. This can be a sign of early pipe freezing, advanced pipe freezing, or may not be related to pipe freezing at all. 

To troubleshoot, first, make sure to check that the water is on and the valves have not been shut. Once you’ve ruled this out, you can inspect the house and try to see if there any signs of a burst or leaking pipe. If you don’t find any burst or leaking pipes and the water is turned on, then you are likely dealing with the early stages of freezing pipes, meaning the pipes are still intact and water is just obstructed. 

To be absolutely sure, you should call in an expert plumber to have a look at the situation.

2. Hearing Unusual Sounds From the Pipes

As pipes begin to freeze, it may make sounds such as gurgling, clanging, or banging. This can be because of the water suddenly expanding as it freezes and/or because of the changing water pressure due to freezing. Additionally, in some cases, the home’s hot water heater may begin to produce a groaning sound as water slowly flows.   

3. Visible Crack on the Pipe(s)

This is one of the signs of advanced pipe freezing. As water completely freezes, it expands to an additional 9% in volume because the molecules of the water crystalize and take up more space. This creates a lot of pressure on the pipes. Along with this, certain pipe materials become extra brittle in cold temperatures. These factors together make the pipe crack – but usually not at the point where the ice is formed. 

After the ice starts to form, there is a buildup of pressure in the pipe and the water that is still not frozen will look for a way out – however, water cannot escape because the faucets are closed. The pressure, therefore, causes the pipe to crack or burst. If you are dealing with this scenario it would be best to shut off the water and proceed to call our emergency plumbers who are available 24/7 for help. 

4. A Strong Sewage Smell

In some cases, the sewer line may freeze and the clear sign of this is a strong sewage odour wafting in the home. If freezing temperatures outside coincide with this sign, make sure to act promptly. A frozen sewer line (just like other frozen pipes) can also rupture, but instead of water, it will create a messy situation in your home. This is another scenario where you would need the help of emergency plumbers who can help you no matter what time of day it is.  

5. Icy Residue for Exposed Pipes

If the pipe is visible, you may see a layer of frost or icy residue around it after the water inside has completely frozen. This means that water cannot flow properly anymore and there is a risk of having a crack somewhere in the pipe very soon (if there isn’t one already). To safely deal with this situation, make sure to get in touch with an expert plumber.

A building covered in icicles

Is It Safe to Attempt to Thaw the Pipes Myself?

Expert plumbers are properly trained to use quality thawing equipment to get the job done faster and with the utmost safety. This is important because time is of the essence as the pressure can start to crack the pipe. Aggressively thawing the pipe with dangerous DIY methods can also lead to further pipe damage or worse, a fire.  

Additionally, there may be cases where you can’t exactly locate where the frozen water is. And other times, there may be cracks already sustained by your pipes. In such cases, calling in an expert plumber would be the only solution.  

Who Can I Call If I Have Frozen Pipes?

Here at PlumbWize, we know how timely frozen pipe emergencies are and make it a point to respond to these calls swiftly. With our experienced plumbers and advanced equipment, we are prepared to give the best solutions to whatever plumbing problem you have. If you’ve noticed any frozen pipes signs in your home give us a call today and we’ll be happy to help!


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