Why Pipes Burst When They Freeze


When the temperature outside starts to fall below freezing, homeowners and business owners always have that little fear in the back of their mind. Will I have to deal with frozen pipes that will burst? A frozen pipe is obviously a problem in that it stops the water flow, but there is another concern, which is that when pipes freeze they may also burst. This means expensive pipe replacement repair and the serious possibility of flooding and water damage. This is probably a good time to mention the importance of having a sump pump installed to help prevent water damage in the lower parts of your home or business. We discussed this in another article, The Advantages of Having a Sump Pump.  

What Makes a Frozen Pipe Burst ?

The reason why a frozen pipe will burst is because of the increased pressure on the side of the pipe where the frozen water section is. There is less space available between the ice and the closed tap, that is the faucet, the pressure will spike and that causes the pipe to burst. 

People assume that the cause of the pipe bursting is simply due to the water freezing and expanding. “Because water will expand when it freezes.” The water molecules take on a hexagonal form during freezing, which takes up more volume than liquid form. When water in a pipe expands due to freezing, it expands to the sides, not directly outward. So, this is not the exact cause for the pipe to burst.

Do Frozen Pipes Always Burst ?

A frozen pipe will not bust open every time, but thawing the ice can increase the risk, as it usually worsens the problem since it raises the pressure further. This is why pipe bursting is especially common as the temperature starts to rise and the ice starts to thaw.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

The winter weather puts a remarkable amount of stresses on a home or building, which is why you should take special precautions to winterize it against the cold temperatures, especially your pipes. One way to prevent pipes from freezing is by adding insulation to the exposed piping. These pipes would be the pipes around your water heater, the pipes in your attic and crawlspace. Installing or adding insulation to your garage doors can be beneficial as well. This will prevent the pipes from losing too much heat to the cold air around them and freezing.

If you do encounter frozen pipes at some point this winter, the best way to deal with them is to contact a professional plumber. If you live in the middle Tennessee area and encounter frozen pipes give us a call at 615-864-9459. A H20 plumbing specialist can come out and help you with any issue you are experiencing with frozen pipes and how to prevent it from happening in the future.