How to Avoid Your Pipes Freezing in Winter and Other Maintenance Suggestions
With the arrival of winter and temperatures lowering, it is important to keep your home warm, and even more important to keep the water running through your pipes. Although this may not be a common problem for everyone, winters in Spain are increasingly colder and homes are not adequately equipped to endure extremely low temperatures. Moreover, pipes are more likely to freeze in areas that are not as accustomed to drastic drops in temperature.
Why Do Pipes Freeze?
One of the biggest concerns surrounding cold temperatures are pipes freezing. Water molecules expand as they get colder, and when they freeze the water crystallises in an open hexagonal shape which occupies more space than when it is in a liquid state. Although it may be surprising, the actual reason for pipes freezing is the pressure that builds up within the pipes.
As it expands, the ice pushes the water in the direction toward the closed tap, accumulating a large amount of pressure between the tap and the part of the pipe that is obstructed by the ice.
Normally, pipes that have openings with water flowing upward are less likely to burst. The water can always return to its source because it is not blocked. As a result, there is no pressure in the tube. The plumbing systems that are at the largest risk of explosion are those that are outside of the thermal insulated areas within the building, or those that are located in areas without heating, for example in basements, attics or garages.
How to Prevent Freezing Issues
Homes that are built with thermal insulation do not normally suffer this type of issue, and in a passive energy-efficient home it is almost impossible. To prevent pipes from freezing, methods range from not placing them on the outside of walls to installing heaters close to the pipes that are more susceptible to freezing. Aluminium pipes can also be replaced with more temperature resistant material, such as PVC or plastic. Although they can still freeze, they are less likely to burst.
- Keep the house closed: The doors and windows can act as a barrier for the passing cold, however it is mainly important to clear the areas close to pipes in places like basements and garages.
- Monitor the heater temperatures: If radiators are turned on to heat the room, it is best to try to keep a consistent temperature. This helps to avoid frequent spikes in the cold that can affect the pipes. Even if a home is empty, conserving a warm temperature is key.
- Locate where the water can be shut off: When winter temperatures fall below freezing, it may be necessary to block water passage. You may have never had to shut the water off before, but for that very reason it is important to locate the water valve in case you need to shut off the flow of water to the household.
- Let the water drip a little: Although this may not be the most sustainable method, it allows the water to flow, preventing the pipes from bursting. If the water is flowing, it will not freeze. If you live in a living space with more than one floor, the key to be opened should be located on the lower level. To avoid water waste, you may let the water flow into a bathtub or basin without draining and afterward reuse it to clean.
What to Do If the Pipes Freeze
If this happens, the entire system of pipes is most likely frozen, however, it may be localised and only affect some of the taps. In any case, it is important to know that there are different forms of tackling this issue, for example with the help of a hairdryer or with hot water.
- Use a warm cloth: Boiling water and wetting a towel or cloth to wrap around the tap is one of the most effective and handy solutions. The heat from the humid cloth will help to initiate the process of defrosting and so, the water will continue to flow and free up pressure.
- Ventilate warm air: Flowing the pipes with warm air also helps to dissolve the ice. This process can be done with the help of a hair dryer, heater or even a heat lamp.
- Shut the water source off: If a pipe explodes, the first thing to do is cut the flow of water off and open the tap to release some of the pressure in the system. This should be done until the professional plumbing service arrives and can resolve the issue.
- Contact an expert: If it is not possible to locate the frozen area or it is not possible to defrost it, the best thing to do is seek professional help from a plumber.
Global warming is an imminent phenomenon that is slowly but surely starting to affect our every-day lives. Freezing is an extreme consequence, and preparing your home to overcome an emergency in low temperatures is increasingly more important. Additionally, using sustainable and environmentally responsible construction practices help to make frozen pipes less of a concern.
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