When temperatures drop, the threat of frozen pipes goes up

Frozen pipes are a major wintertime problem. Throughout the winter, Church Mutual receives hundreds of claims involving frozen pipes and sprinkler systems. Contrary to what one might think, losses due to frozen pipes commonly occur in climates that are not typically associated with cold weather, especially when unexpected cold fronts sweep through a region.

Where pipes need protection

Attics, crawl spaces, unheated rooms and pipes in exterior walls typically are more prone to freezing. Problems also are more likely to occur in areas where pipes have previously frozen, especially if preventative actions were not taken after the previous occurrence.

Reduce the chances of frozen pipes

Plumbing pipes and sprinkler systems are more likely to freeze when insufficient heat is provided to the building or enclosed area. One of the easiest things to do to prevent frozen pipes is to keep the building temperature above 50 degrees. Also discontinue the use of low, nighttime thermostat settings during periods of extreme cold to help maintain a higher overall interior temperature.

All areas of your building should be heated to retain warmth and allow pipes to maintain sufficient temperature levels to help reduce the chances of freezing. The following are steps you can take to help maintain temperature levels and reduce exposure to freezing temperatures:

  • Add insulation to attics and crawl spaces and avoid running pipes on top of attic insulation. Use pipe insulation to provide increased protection from extremely cold temperatures.
  • Ensure that concealed spaces above false ceilings containing sprinkler pipes or heads receive sufficient heat. To accomplish this, remove a few ceiling tiles around the area to allow warm air to circulate into the concealed space.
  • Search for and seal isolated drafts or cold air leaks. Keep doors and windows tightly closed.

During severe cold, additional steps may be necessary to prevent frozen pipes:

  • Let a faucet drip to prevent pipes from freezing and to relieve pressure if ice forms to prevent pipes from bursting.
  • Open cabinets and cupboards containing pipes to promote warm airflow in the otherwise enclosed spaces.

Draining the system

If extremely cold temperatures are present, power to the building is lost, or the building will be vacant for a prolonged period, consider shutting off the water and draining the plumbing pipes. This involves locating and shutting off the main water valve to the building and then opening faucets and flushing toilets starting from the top floor to get as much water out of the pipes as possible. Arrange for someone to conduct a daily check of the property for signs of a drop in building temperature and water damage.

If you have a wet sprinkler system, it can be susceptible to cold weather and often requires expensive repairs after freezing. For this reason, it might be necessary to drain them during severe weather conditions. If this is not done, ice plugs can obstruct the piping and possibly damage fittings and sprinkler heads. Consult your sprinkler contractor and your insurance carrier before making any alterations or taking your sprinkler system out of service. Before a sprinkler system is restored back into service, have your sprinkler contractor or a qualified person check for cracked fittings, ruptured pipes, and leaking sprinkler heads.

What to do if pipes freeze

If a pipe freezes, open faucets on frozen fixtures to help relieve pressure and reduce the chances of a pipe bursting. Turn up the thermostat to increase the temperature in the area. A space heater can be used to warm individual rooms. Open cabinet doors to help warm air reach frozen pipes under sinks.

Heat can be applied to pipes by using rags or towels soaked in hot water. Use of electrical equipment should be limited to prevent electrical shock.

Thawing a frozen pipe with a torch should be left to a professional. Applying a torch to a frozen pipe — in addition to being a high fire risk — can overheat the pipe, cause water inside to boil and the pipe to explode. Check with your local licensed plumbing professional for recommended methods of safely thawing frozen pipes.

If a pipe bursts, immediately turn off the water at the main shut-off valve and contact a licensed plumber. Check other pipes in the immediate area to ensure that further bursting and freezing has not occurred.

We’re here to help! For additional questions, contact Church Mutual Insurance Company’s Risk Control Central.

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Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I. (a stock insurer)
P.O. Box 357 | 3000 Schuster Lane | Merrill, WI 54452-0357
Telephone (800) 554-2642 or (715) 536-5577

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Church Mutual is a stock insurer whose policyholders are members of the parent mutual holding company formed on 1/1/20. S.I. = a stock insurer.