Issues that can lead to frozen pipes, and some of the related challenges for water restoration!
Frozen pipes as a source for water damage in a structure have a lot in common with regular supply line sources, discussed here. Water restoration from a frozen water line has the same category as a regular supply line break, so it won’t be mentioned on this page. Even though frozen pipes have a lot in common with regular pipe breaks, freezing water in the lines can cause a situation where pipe bursting can occur in a lot of areas at once. When repairing frozen water lines, a plumber has to be prepared to find additional points of breakage to be repaired. This multiple breaks situation can also create difficulty for a water restoration technician, because of multiple source points.
One way freezing pipes can occur in a structure is the gas and/or electric utilities were not maintained so that the structure did not have heat, but the water was left on in the structure. This leads to the worst kinds of damage that I have seen because the break usually goes undetected for a great deal of time. In addition, this type of freezing damage is usually not covered by insurance carriers.
Another possibility is that all utilities where turned off, including the water, but the pressure was not released from the lines and the structure was not winterized. This leads to breaks in the pipes, but no active water. This type of freezing can go undetected until water supply is restored to the structure. Due to the fact that somebody is usually in the structure when the water flow is restored, this type of freezing damage is usually not bad because of the quick detection.
A faulty central heating system or furnace can be a cause of frozen pipe water damage as well. If the source of heat in a building fails to work then freezing can easily take place and start causing a significant amount of damage. This scenario is usually covered by insurance, assuming the proper policy was kept in force and proof that utilities and heat were maintained on the property can be provided.
Some of the more common freeze breaks are actually ones that occur while the heat is on and functioning. These tend to be in perimeter walls and usually happen at or near spigots. Also, because many sink cabinets and vanities are on perimeter walls, it is a good idea to keep the cabinet or vanity doors open or cracked to allow the heating of the building to also keep the sink lines from freezing.
Problems of drying other water damage losses apply to frozen pipes as well, but because frozen pipes are usually found in perimeter walls additional points of interest will be mentioned here. Perimeter or exterior walls are usually insulated. Insulation can hold moisture in the wall making drying difficult. Another common issue is vapor barriers. In older homes from around the sixties, the drywall on the perimeter walls commonly had a foil lining that acted as a vapor barrier. In newer homes, plastic is added to act as a vapor barrier. In both cases this vapor barrier can make drying the walls very difficult and usually will not happen fast enough to prevent secondary issues. So if you happen to have a frozen pipe in a perimeter wall, prepare yourself for the possibility that it might need to be removed.
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