Michigan homeowners know the temperature can plummet out of nowhere, leading to heavy snow squalls and the potential for frozen or ruptured pipes. Here are some tips to keep your pipes from freezing and bursting in future winters.

Most homes are designed with interior pipes that aren’t subjected to the cold weather outside. But when heat sources fail, or temperatures fall in your home for some reason, your pipes can freeze pretty fast. This is especially true of mobile or manufactured homes where water lines can become exposed beneath the home, within the crawlspace, and freeze.

Why Water Pipes Burst When Frozen

Have you ever placed a drink in the freezer to rapidly cool it and forget about the bottle? If you come back later, you’ll find the frozen drink in a swollen bottle. You may have even found the inside of your freezer covered in frozen beverage after the top blew off.

Frozen pipes work in a similar manner. Mind you, not all pipes will rupture, but with the kind of winters we get in Michigan it’s possible for pipes to freeze, burst, and lead to serious water damage.

When water freezes, it expands. This adds a lot of pressure to the pipe, which is already filled with water. Just a small crack in the pipe can grow from increased pressure, and if it breaks then the full flow of water is going to be allowed into your home.

How Do You Know When Pipes Are Frozen?

If you can see the pipes, you’ll often find frost or bulging in a certain section – that’s a good indication that pipes are frozen. If you can’t get to your pipes to inspect them, there’s always the tried and true method…

When water isn’t flowing in one segment of the home, or a toilet won’t refill after flushing, you probably have a frozen water pipe.

How to Thaw Frozen Water Pipes

If the pipe hasn’t ruptured or broken, thawing the frozen pipe is relatively easy. Before anything else, turn off the water supply to the frozen pipe. If the frozen pipe did crack, once the ice plug thaws out you could be faced with a torrent of water gushing from the pipe.

Have a bucket, mop, and some towels handy to catch any water that does leak out, just in case, to prevent any potential water damage.

A small section of pipe can be easily thawed using a hair dryer or heat lamp held near the length of frozen pipe. A space heater can also be used to warm the area. For exposed pipes, it’s a good idea to wrap them with thermostatically controlled heat tape. Not only will heat tape (commonly used in manufactured housing) thaw the frozen pipe, it can prevent future problems.

DO NOT use any kind of torch of flame to thaw your pipes. This poses a serious fire risk due the proximity to flammable building materials around your home.

What to Do When a Frozen Pipe Bursts

When the pressure becomes to great, and a pipe breaks, it will generally dislodge the ice plug and send the unfrozen water streaming into your home. Don’t try to locate buckets or garbage cans to catch water – go immediately to the shut off valve to minimize flooding and potential water damage.

Next, call a water mitigation specialist and/or plumber depending on the severity of the flooding.

Do what you can to remove and dry up the water, but only if you can do so safely without risk of exposure, electric shock, or other hazards. Depending on the scale of the incident, you’ll likely want to call your insurance company to file a claim over water damage and repairs.

Tips to Prevent Pipes From Freezing

If you know your home might be prone to frozen pipes (like many are around Metro-Detroit in the winter months), it’s a good idea to take some extra precautions to ensure your pipes don’t freeze or burst.

  • Drain water from swimming pools and irrigation supply lines
  • Close valves supplying outdoor hose bibs, then open exterior bibs to allow lines to drain
  • Check for any supply lines in unheated areas, including the attic, garage and in crawl spaces. Any exposed pipes should be insulated using pipe sleeves, heat cable, or heat tape.
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply pipes in the garage
  • During extremely cold weather, check cabinets to ensure the temperature is even with the rest of the home. If under cabinet spaces are too cold, allow warm air from the home to circulate in by leaving cabinet doors open
  • During extremely cold weather, turn on your cold water lines just enough to create a steady drip. Moving water is far less likely to freeze
  • Ensure that your thermostat is programmed to stay above 55 degrees if you’re leaving for an extended period. Never shut your HVAC off when leaving during the winter months
  • Check insulation in the basement and attic where pipes run. Consider upgrading or replacing insulation where temperatures get too low..