Frozen Pipes and What You Can Do About Them
Cold Weather Advice From Your
Mohawk Valley Water Authority
What are some common reasons for frozen pipes?
Water pipes will usually be more susceptible to freezing when the outdoor air temperature is below the “teens” and “twenties” for more than several weeks. Special attention should be given when the outdoor temperature does not rise above zero degrees during the daytime hours. Some reasons for frozen pipes include:
How will I know if my pipes are frozen?
Generally, when a pipe that feeds a certain fixture such as a shower, sink, or toilet freezes, you will not be able to get water from that fixture.
Why do frozen water pipes break?
When water freezes within a pipe, the volume of water expands. The same amount of water takes up more space as a solid than as a liquid. This causes the pipes to expand and possibly break at a weak point. You may notice this immediately, or it may not become apparent until the pipe begins to thaw, with the break occurring only when full water pressure is restored.
Does this apply to water service lines (the pipes that run from the house to the street) as well as indoor pipes?
Yes! Water service lines can freeze when the ground frost gets deep enough to encase your service line in ice. However, this generally happens only when your service line is less than five feet below the surface of the ground.
By the way, what is a water service line?
A water service line is the pipe that connects to the MVWA’s water main in the street, and brings fresh water into your home. This line should have valves on it that allow your water to be turned on or off. It’s usually located in the basement. If you have a slab-foundation house instead of a basement or crawl space, your shut-off valve may be at the point where the water supply pipes come up through the slab. Either way, it’s a good idea to tie a tag to the valve, so you can find it quickly in an emergency.
Where should I look to find my shut-off valves?
There are actually two major shut-off valves in your service line. The first valve is called a “curb-stop.” It’s generally located near the property line, and is normally housed in a cylinder with a cap on it called the “curb box.” The other major valve is located in your home, just before the water meter. Other valves may be located near plumbing appliances such as sinks and toilets.
Which parts of these service lines are my responsibility, and which are the responsibility of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority?
The resident’s responsibility for maintenance begins immediately after the “curb stop” and extends through the entire home. The resident is also responsibility for the shut-off valve next to the water meter, although the meter itself is the property of the MVWA. The “curb stop” is the responsibility of the Water Authority.
How should I maintain the main shut-off valve?
Keeping the main shut-off valve in good working condition will ensure that you are able to turn your water off if one of your pipes breaks, or in the event of another emergency. Give the valve a turn occasionally to prevent possible corrosion build-up (if the valve is already stiff from corrosion, a little WD-40 will dissolve the build-up). Don’t forget to turn the valve back to the position it was in originally when you’re finished with the test!
What if my main shut-off valve won’t work in an emergency?
Call us immediately at (315) 792-0301. We’ll send someone out to shut your water off at the “curb-stop.”
What should I do if my pipes freeze?
Your best course of action is to call a professional plumber, as the Mohawk Valley Water Authority does not deal with frozen service lines or pipes.
Can I try thawing the pipes myself?
Yes, but you’ll need to be very careful! Some improper thawing methods could cause the pipes to burst; others can injure or even kill you! Here are some of the safer methods:
Whatever you do, DO NOT try to thaw a frozen pipe with a blowtorch. There’s a good chance that you will cause the water to boil within the pipe, resulting in an explosion when the pipe bursts. Also, a blow torch will release poisonous gasses into the air; you might die trying to defrost your pipes!
Would you talk about some preventive measures? How can I prevent my pipes from freezing in the first place?