Guide to Frozen Pipes


During the chillier winter weather, many homeowners and landlords dread the effects that come with colder climates. A frozen water line not only means an inability to access water, but also a colossal mess that can initiate the formation of mold and mildew, flooding and architectural damage.

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While the fear of frozen pipes is troublesome enough, what is even more worrisome is leaving your house unattended during these temperature drops. Water is a necessity in every house, but it can cause serious issues when it expands and freezes. When freezing occurs for long periods of time, your pipes begin to experience immense pressure and may crack, fracture or break entirely.

How To Keep Pipes From Freezing in a Vacant House

Don’t let this fear of household disasters keep you from your holiday travels during the winter days. With a little preparation and added caution, you can keep your house safe — and thawed! — even when you’re not at home. The following tips can help you prevent your pipes from freezing:

1. Keep the Heat on - Even When Nobody is Home


While it may seem odd and impractical to keep a house heated when there are no tenants inside, it’s one of the easier precautionary measures to take to avoid freezing pipes. Whether you’re expecting Chicago’s harsh winter weather or you live in a milder winter climate, frozen pipes can occur in any region.

What temperature should you leave a vacant house?

Prevent pipe bursts in the winter by setting the thermostat to a warmer temperature that will inhibit any freezing. The ideal temperature for your house, while you’re on winter vacation, doesn’t have to be excessive, but it should be above 55°F throughout the day and night.

2. Keep Doors Throughout Your Home Open

If you have bathrooms or other rooms that get colder than others, keep those doors open so the heat stays even throughout every room and will help keep the pipes in those rooms from freezing.

3. Cover up Door Frames and Window Cracks

During the frosty winter season, you want to keep strong gusts of chilly air outside to ensure the inside of your house stays cozy and warm. Keeping the heat on while you’re away may be counterintuitive if your house has open spots where the outside air seeps in.

Carefully examine door frames, windows, corners, edges, and drywall for any holes, cracks or overall structural damage. If you notice any openings, buy a tube of caulk at your local hardware store to seal up any weak spots in your home’s interior that would allow cold air to leak in.

4. Protect your Water Pipes with Heat Tape or Pipe Sleeves

Heating tape is one insulation accessory that can be added directly to your water pipes to prevent freezing. Another option is to use a “pipe sleeve” or cable to provide additional insulation on your water pipes to ensure the water flowing through them remains liquid, not solid.

Sometimes no matter how well you prepare, water damage can strike at any time, whether it comes in the form of a flood, leaky roof, or burst pipe. When it does strike, it is important freaking out because a water pipe burst in hometo act quickly to minimize damage.

When a water pipe freezes and eventually bursts, it gushes water until the water supply is turned off. Unfortunately, this can go unnoticed for several hours, if not longer. Severe water damage can result, including soaked and damaged drywall, a water damaged floor, ceiling, and more. If not dealt with in a timely manner, this water damage can quickly result in mold, as well.

Fortunately, potential water damage from frozen pipes is preventable.

What to Do When a Pipe Bursts?

1. Shut off the water supply immediately.

2. Before you touch anything, take pictures and contact your insurance company to file a claim. Be sure to include everything that was damaged by the water in your photos like furniture, carpets, electronics, and wall hangings.

3. Finally, call ServiceMaster of Lincoln Park. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to provide emergency restoration services. As an IICRC Certified company, our technicians are trained to identify moisture sources, evaluate mold growth, contain damage, remove contamination, and dry structural materials in an effort to reduce your loss and preserve your property.

Common Questions

What Causes a Water Pipe to Burst?

There are two main causes -

Water Pressure: If your pipe becomes clogged, it can cause pressure to build up behind the blockage. This excess pressure will cause one of two things to happen. It can either cause the blockage to dislodge, rectifying the issue, or it can cause the pipe to burst.

Freezing: Another common cause of burst pipes is winter weather. When the temperature dips below freezing, if you are not careful, your pipes may freeze and burst. Follow the steps above to prevent this from happening.

What Temperature Do Water Pipes Burst?

If the temperature outside isn’t below zero, many wrongly assume that their pipes should function properly. What temperature do pipes burst at exactly? Generally speaking, the majority of pipe-bursting episodes occur at 20° F and below. Even if your house doesn’t feel too cold inside or outside, it’s ideal to safeguard your pipes to prevent potential breaking.

How Much Water is Lost from a Pipe Burst?

A small leak in a pipe can expel 22 gallons of water a day. Now just imagine the damage burst pipes can do. With Chicago temperatures commonly dropping below freezing, it is important to prepare your home for the worst. This means cleaning your gutters to help prevent ice dams and insulating pipes to keep them from freezing. In unheated basements and crawlspaces, frozen pipes present a very real threat.

How to Fix Broken or Frozen Pipes?

Don’t worry — your pipes may be frozen, but that doesn’t mean they are broken.

  1. First and foremost, be sure to know how to shut off your water supply. If your frozen pipes have caused a crack in a pipe, timely action can help minimize potential water damage.
  2. Turn the hot water faucets on and leave them, even if nothing comes out right away.
  3. Your next course of action is unfreezing your pipes. Use a hairdryer, heating pad or hot compress to thaw the area that is affected. Avoid using any kind of flame for heating the pipe, such as blowtorches or matches, to thaw your pipes, as this could initiate a fire.

If your pipes are broken or you find yourself unable to resolve the issue on your own, get in touch with a professional immediately. Fortunately, with a little preparation, most instances of frozen and burst pipes can be prevented.

ServiceMaster of Lincoln Park Chicago is ready to help with certified licensed restoration technicians available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. With over 60 years of experience in helping business owners and homeowners, like you, with water damage restoration, we are the best choice for the job. We maintain a high standard of morals, values, and customer service and handle every job with the utmost care, speed, and effectiveness

Contact a ServiceMaster representative or give us a call to help safeguard your home against Chicago’s winter weather & fix any water damage that may have been caused by a burst pipe.

Will a Heat Lamp Keep Pipes From Freezing?

Specialized heat lamps can be employed for pipes located in areas of the house that are particularly cold. Typically, one heat lamp should suffice. One disadvantage of using a heat lamp is that it can lead to higher energy bills if used constantly over a long period of time.

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