During the harsh winter months, there's plenty of hazards to be wary of. From dangerous driving conditions to slipping on ice, hypothermia, and more, frozen temperatures can wreak havoc in many ways. Cold weather can also impact your house—including expensive roof damage and damage to your home’s foundation.
One issue that many people don’t consider is the potential for burst pipes. When pipes freeze, they can burst and can cause major damage to your home. Below, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about frozen pipes, including what temperatures pipes may freeze at, how long it takes for pipes to burst, signs to look for to tell if you have a frozen pipe, what to do if your pipes freeze, and how to prevent frozen pipes.
How Cold Does It Have to Be for Pipes to Burst?
Like a ticking time bomb, frozen pipes can cause catastrophic damage if the temperature gets too low. Understanding how cold it needs to be for your pipes to burst is important in order to prevent costly repairs. So, the question is: just how cold does it have to be for pipes to burst?
Your pipes are at risk of freezing any time temperatures drop below 32°F. However, it’s much more common for pipes to freeze when temperatures dip below 20°F. The longer the weather remains below freezing, the more likely it is your pipes can freeze if not properly protected and winterized. In these temperatures, the water inside your pipes can expand, causing pressure that leads to ruptures.
How Long Does It Take for Pipes to Burst?
Frozen pipes are like a ticking time-bomb—the colder it gets and the longer it remains cold, the greater the risk of detonation (or bursting). The question is: how much time does it take for pipes to freeze and burst?
Unfortunately, there’s no definite answer. There are several factors that can impact the time it takes for pipes to burst, such as how low the temperature gets, whether or not the pipes are properly insulated, and (to a lesser extent) what material the pipes are made of.
As mentioned in the previous section, once the outside temperature drops below freezing (32°F), your pipes are at risk of freezing. However, the chances of damage increase as temperatures drop to 20°F or below. As temperatures continue to drop, so does the amount of time required for pipes to freeze completely and eventually burst.
Depending on various factors, the water inside pipes can start freezing in just 6 hours, though it’s more common to see damage and issues after one to three days of subfreezing temperatures.
The short answer to the question is: there’s a chance it won’t take long at all for the water in your pipes to freeze (which can lead to bursting), so it’s important to be proactive when you know a cold front is moving in. After all, prevention is better than cure—so taking steps before extreme weather hits will help you avoid costly repairs down the line due to broken pipes.
Do Frozen Pipes Always Burst?
When temperatures plummet, the risk of pipes bursting increases. While subfreezing temperatures pose serious dangers for your pipes, not every frozen pipe will burst. However, older pipes, exposed pipes, and uninsulated pipes are much more likely to burst during extended cold spells.
Fortunately, there are several ways to winterize and protect your pipes, which we’ll discuss in the “Ways to Prevent Pipes from Bursting” section below.
Do Regional Differences Impact Pipes?
It might surprise you to learn that you may be more at risk of pipes bursting depending on where you live (and not for the reasons you might imagine). For example, in the U.S., you might think that those who live in the northern region would be more likely to experience burst pipes. It makes sense—the north often has longer periods of colder temperatures, so it tracks that pipes bursting would be more common.
However, houses in colder climates tend to have pipes located inside the insulation, which helps keep them from freezing during cold weather. Homes in warmer southern regions tend to have exposed pipes, which put them at a higher risk of bursting.
Additionally, residents in colder regions are often more familiar with ways to prepare and protect their pipes for the winter, while those in warmer areas aren’t as conscious or aware of potential issues (as incidents of severe freezing weather are much less common).
What Are Signs That Pipes Are Frozen?
Being able to recognize signs that your pipes are frozen is essential in order to minimize and prevent further damage and costly repairs. While you should take precautions to reduce the chances of your pipes bursting (more on that in the next section), it's important to watch for possible warning signs that you may have a burst pipe.
Some key signs of frozen pipes to watch for include:
- Icy patches or frost on exposed pipes
- Weak or no water flow when turning on a faucet
- An unusual smell coming from a drain or faucet
- Strange noises such as banging or whistling coming from your pipes
There are also more severe and obvious signs you may notice, such as:
- Puddles, damp spots, or dripping water on your wall or ceiling
- A cracked pipe or a bulge in a pipe
Knowing what to look for can help you act quickly to protect your home from the extensive damage that burst pipes can cause, so it’s important to stay alert during cold weather.
What To Do if Your Pipes are Frozen
If you notice any symptoms of frozen pipes (as outlined above), it’s important to act quickly to ensure you prevent and minimize damage. Here are some steps you can take to try to remedy the situation before you wind up with an expensive repair bill:
First: Turn off Your Water – Shut off your water from the main supply valve. If you aren’t sure where this valve is located, you should call your water utility’s emergency phone number so they can help you find it.
Second: Locate the Pipe – If it isn’t obvious which pipe is the culprit, be sure to check under your sinks and colder areas of your home (such as your attic, basement, and exterior walls). Look for cracks, bulging, dripping water, or ice on the pipe.
Third: Relieve Pressure – Open any faucet that is connected to the pipe. Doing so will allow pressure to escape, which can help minimize further damage.
If you notice any leaking water or ice seeping from the pipe, it’s important to call an emergency plumber to get assistance immediately. If you don’t notice any severe damage (such as a leak), you may be able to thaw the pipe on your own by using a space heater or hair dryer (avoid using an open flame). However, it’s highly recommended to have professional assistance to locate and properly repair potential issues.
Ways To Prevent Pipes from Bursting
While knowing how to identify issues with your pipes is important, the best approach is to take the time to properly winterize and prepare your pipes before freezing temperatures can damage them.
- When outside temperatures start to reach subfreezing levels:
- Keep your home’s thermostat above 55°F
- Turn on faucets to allow water to drip
- Open cabinets under sinks to expose pipes to warmer air
- Keep your garage door closed as much as possible to help prevent heat from escaping
- Insulate your exposed pipes with insulation or heating tape
- Install Freeze Misers for your outdoor faucets and water lines
All of these steps are easy to take, and don’t take much time, so it’s well worth doing them whenever you notice a cold front in the forecast.
When the weather drops to below freezing levels, the possibility of a burst pipe is very real. The resulting damage can easily cost in the thousands to fix (sometimes $10,000+ depending on the extent of the damage), so it’s worth taking time to properly winterize your pipes and double-check that they’re protected before cold weather hits.
One easy way to help prevent pipe issues is to install a Freeze Miser on each of your outdoor faucets and spigots. The cost of the Freeze Miser is only $30.00, making it a simple and affordable solution that can prevent potentially thousands of dollars in damages. It automatically starts dripping water as temperatures drop close to freezing. Once the temperature increases, it automatically stops. This helps protect your pipes while using as little water as necessary.
Visit our shop to get your Freeze Miser today!