As a homeowner, it's essential to be aware of potential issues that can arise in your home, especially during the winter season. One common concern is the risk of frozen pipes, which can lead to significant damage if not addressed promptly.
But what about PVC pipes? Do PVC pipes freeze? Can your PVC pipes burst?
Below, we’ll look at answers to these questions—and more! Read on to find out if these pipes do indeed freeze and burst, at what temperatures they may have problems, how to prevent these issues, and what to do if you have frozen pipes.
Is it Possible for PVC Pipes to Freeze?
Indeed, PVC pipes can freeze when exposed to extremely low temperatures. While PVC pipes generally have a higher resistance and durability compared to traditional metal pipes, they are not immune to the damage and problems that freezing conditions can cause.
How do PVC Pipes React to Freezing Conditions?
While metal pipes may rupture and burst when frozen, PVC pipes are brittle and are more prone to cracking and splitting due to their inability to properly contract and expand in response to cold temperatures.
If there is water in your PVC pipes when they start to freeze, pressure may build up with no way to escape. When this happens, the pipe may crack to relieve the pressure—you may not even notice the cracks until the water has thawed and starts leaking. This is true for indoor pipes and exposed outdoor pipes.
At what temperature can PVC pipes freeze?
Just like other pipes, any time the temperature reaches or goes below around 20F, there’s a risk that the water in the pipes can start to freeze. The longer these temperatures last, the more time the water has to freeze, and the greater the chance of cracking.
Symptoms & Signs of Frozen and Burst PVC Pipes
When pipes freeze, no matter what material they’re made of, there are key signs and symptoms to look for. The sooner you see and recognize these signs, the sooner you can act to minimize damage.
Low or No Water Flow
If you turn on a tap in your home and no water comes out, or if you notice a slower flow of water than normal, there’s a good chance your pipes have already started freezing. As soon as you notice this issue, you need to act quickly (more on the steps to take below).
Leaks & Water
If you notice any water starting to pool on your floor, or if you notice a wet spot on your ceiling or walls, you’ve most likely got a burst pipe on your hands. The longer this issue goes untreated, the more damage you’ll have to clean up and repair.
Water damage can quickly wreak havoc on your home and belongings, requiring a lot of work and money to remedy. From ruining electronics, furniture, and other items throughout your home, to causing rot and damage to your home’s structure and foundation, there are a lot of ways water can quickly impact your house.
Untreated water issues can quickly lead to mold growth throughout your home. Mold may not cause structural damage, but it can lead to stains and foul odors that can be difficult to remove. Even worse, mold can cause a variety of health problems, such as:
- Eye irritation
- Sore throats
- Runny noses
- Breathing Problems
- And more
Higher Water Bills
While many signs of indoor pipe leaks will be apparent quickly, problems with outdoor pipes may not be as obvious—especially underground pipes. A higher water bill is one key indicator to watch for—the difference may be subtle if the leak is minor, but if you notice your bill is 5-10% higher than your average bills, it’s worth investigating.
A more severe leak can greatly increase your water bill, and you may notice standing water or a damp spot in your yard that never seems to dry.
Thawing Frozen PVC Pipes
If you’ve noticed your water isn’t flowing or is running slowly, you need to act quickly to thaw your pipes to reduce the chances of bursting. You’ll need to locate the frozen pipe, which you can normally do by looking for condensation on the pipe, or potentially a visible crack depending on the severity of the problem.
1) Turn off your water supply
First, you’ll want to shut off the water to your home at the main shutoff valve. If your water is on and your pipe has already cracked, water may come rushing out once you’ve thawed the pipe.
2) Gather your equipment
You’ll want to have towels, a mop, and a bucket nearby to quickly remove any built up water that may come from any cracks in the pipe once the pipe has been warmed up. You’ll also want a heat source—common tools you can use include: a space heater, a hair dryer, an electric blanket, or hot towels. Do NOT use anything with an open flame, as that can cause damage to the pipe and can be a fire hazard.
3) Thaw the pipe
Using your preferred tool (listed above), apply heat to the pipe to start warming it.
- How to thaw a frozen pipe with a space heater: If using space heater, position it a few feet away from the pipe and position it properly to ensure that the warmth is reaching the pipe.
- Thawing a frozen pipe with a heat lamp: Similar to the space heater, position the heat lamp so that its heat can warm the pipe. Depending on the strength, you will likely need to have the lamp fairly close to the pipe, but be sure to give some space so it doesn’t overheat the pipe and potentially cause damage.
- How to thaw a frozen pipe with a hair dryer: Turn the hairdryer on the highest heat setting and hold it a few inches from the pipe to help it warm up and thaw quickly. Expect to spend around 20-30 minutes (possibly longer depending on how cold the weather is outside) with this approach.
- How to thaw a pipe with an electric blanket: Turn the electric blanket up to the hottest setting and wrap it around the pipe. This will likely take a while to fully thaw the pipe, but it is a safe and effective method that doesn’t require as much manual work as using a hair dryer.
- How to thaw a pipe with hot towels: Warm the towels in your dryer on the highest setting until they’re hot. Pull them out a quickly wrap them around the affected pipe to let them increase the pipe’s temperature. Repeat as necessary—this can take a while, but it may help to speed the process along if you have multiple towels in rotation, with some warming in the dryer while some are applied to the pipe.
Dealing with Cracked PVC Pipes
After your pipe is thawed and you’ve turned the water back on, if you’ve noticed it is leaking, you’ll need to turn the water back off immediately and call a professional plumber to assist so they can fix the problem before damage occurs. Be sure to dry up any water as quickly as possible, as well.
Similarly, if you have an outdoor pipe that has burst or cracked, you’ll need a professional to assist with the repairs.
Preventing Frozen & Cracked PVC Pipes
Instead of dealing with frozen and cracked pipes, it’s a good idea to plan ahead as the weather starts to cool, and to keep up with forecasts so you can be prepared when a cold front moves in.
Insulate Your Pipes & Home
Use foam pipe insulation to protect your pipes from extreme temperatures. This can help increase temperature by several degrees, which can make a big difference when it comes to water freezing. Additionally, ensure the areas in your home where pipes may be exposed (such as a basement or attic) have proper insulation, and be sure to seal any cracks around your doors or windows to help maintain your home’s temperature.
Turn your faucets on to a slow drip to allow water to continually move through your pipes when the temperatures start to reach freezing levels. Allowing even a slow trickle of water helps prevent freezing.
Open Your Cabinet Doors
Opening cabinet doors where pipes are, such as under your kitchen sink, bathroom sink, and vanities, can help warm air from your home properly circulate around your pipes and keep them warmer. Learn more about how opening your cabinet doors can help prevent frozen pipes here.
Set Your Thermostat
Keep your thermostat set to at least 68°F to help keep your home and pipes warm. Even if you wind up taking a trip, it’s a good idea to keep your home at least this warm—you may pay a few more dollars on your electric bill, but it’s worth minimizing the chances of coming home to a burst pipe and expensive water damage.
Use a Freeze Miser
While the above tips can help protect your indoor pipes, you’ll also want to protect your outdoor pipes and keep them from freezing. Whether you have PVC pipes or metal pipes, attaching a Freeze Miser on each faucet will allow water to drip automatically when water levels reach 37°F, ensuring a steady trickle of water to protect your pipes—even in the coldest of temperatures.
Not only is the Freeze Miser affordable (under $30), it also is easy to install (about 2 minutes or less), and it works around the clock, so you don’t need to mess with turning outdoor faucets on and off as the temperature fluctuates.
For more tips on how to prevent frozen pipes, be sure to check our article Frozen Pipes: What to Do & How to Prevent Them.