Preventing Frozen Pipes

The three primary causes of frozen pipes are quick drops in temperature, poor insulation and thermostats set too low. We’ve seen these claims from organizations as far south as Florida. Frozen pipes can occur in any region and are a potential threat to your organization. The costs of repairing the piping and water-damage aren’t the only setbacks that your organization could face – several organizations have had to close part of their facilities as a result of frozen pipes that burst. There are multiple things that you can do immediately to prevent the cold weather from freezing your pipes.

First, it’s important to locate the main water supply shutoff and identify it with a sign in case of an emergency. Next, address the following areas:

Preventing Freeze-Ups in Outdoor Faucets:

  • Replace standard outdoor faucets with frost-free faucets, or
  • Place a foam cover (found at any home improvement or plumbing store) over the faucets, or
  • Wrap the faucets with insulation and place a plastic bag over them.

Preventing Freeze-Ups in Empty Buildings:

  • Shut off all water going to buildings that are not heated or occupied during winter months at the main water source, and
  • Drain all interior and exterior water lines and leave the faucets open, and
  • Do not leave windows or doors open. If they are left open, pipes will freeze more quickly.

Additional Prevention Measures:

Monitor building temperature via supervisory devices that are transmitted to a 24-hour monitoring location. This is especially important in unheated locations of the building.

If you do not have a monitoring device, staff may walk through the building if the facility is closed for more than 12 hours (e.g. long weekends). Thermometers can be placed throughout the facility to help staff check that the temperature is above 40°.

If automatic sprinkler piping passes through an unheated building, ask your servicing company to inspect it before winter. If necessary, they may isolate the portions at risk or install frost-free heads.

Vacant Buildings That Need Year-Round Water:

Maintain 40° F in all indoor areas of the building to prevent freezing. If the temperature drops below this level, the following measures can be taken:

  • Leave the water dripping at a faucet in that area, and/or
  • Provide adequate heating in areas susceptible to freezing (above suspended ceilings, in stairwells, etc.), and/or
  • Wrap pipes in unheated areas with adequate insulation or heat-tape to reduce or prevent freezing.

If Pipes Do Freeze:

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your pipes might still freeze. Don’t stress, just because the pipes are frozen does not mean they have already burst or will burst in the future. To be safe here’s what you can do:

  • If you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out, leave the faucets turned on and call a plumber.
  • Do not use electrical appliances in areas of standing water. You could be electrocuted.
  • Do not – under any circumstances – thaw with a blowtorch or other open flame device. This can cause even more damage.
  • You may be able to thaw the pipe using a hair dryer or heat lamp. Start by warming close to the faucet, moving slowly toward the coldest section.

If your pipes have already burst, turn off water at the main shutoff valve to the building.