Forecasters say freezing, bursting water pipes possible with extreme cold

(Image: Leonid Mamchenkov via

(Image: Leonid Mamchenkov via

With dangerous arctic cold arriving, forecasters are concerned about the possibility of freezing and bursting water pipes.

High temperatures will not rise out of the 20s through at least New Year’s Day, and it will be even colder at night.

“The threshold temperature for most pipes — those in attics and other areas not directly exposed to the cold — is about 20 degrees,” advises the Houston Chronicle‘s Eric Berger.

Pipes burst due to excessively high pressure. A comprehensive article on the subject notes:

“Water pipes burst because the water inside them expands is it gets close to freezing, and this causes an increase in pressure inside the pipe. When the pressure gets too high for the pipe to contain, it ruptures.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

A simple solution is letting faucets run, according to a guide from The Weather Channel.

While a dripping faucet is an effective way to relieve water pressure, an open faucet provides “relief from the excessive pressure that builds between the faucet and the ice blockage when freezing occurs. If there is no excessive water pressure, there is no burst pipe, even if the water inside the pipe freezes,” the guide advises.

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety offers more comprehensive tips to mitigate the risk:

Provide a reliable back-up power source, such as a stand by generator, to ensure continuous power to the building.

Recessed light fixtures in the ceiling below the open area that is directly under a roof, such as attic space, should be insulated to prevent the release of heat into the attic.

Insulate all attic penetrations such as partition walls, vents, plumbing stacks, electric and mechanical chases, and access doors that are not properly sealed.

Ensure proper seals on all doors and windows. Depending on the building or room size, fan tests can be conducted to ensure room and pressurization tests.

Seal all wall cracks and penetrations including domestic and fire protection lines, electrical conduit, other utility service line, etc.

Insulation and/or heat trace tape with a reliable power source may be installed on various wet sprinkler system piping. This includes main lines coming up from underground passing through a wall as well as sprinkler branch lines.

A monitored automatic excess flow switch can be placed on the main incoming domestic water line to provide early detection of a broken pipe or valve when the space is unoccupied.

In the event of a frozen or burst pipe, the institute warns:

  • Don’t use propane or a welding torch to melt the ice on a pipe. Instead, use a hairdryer.
  • If a pipe has frozen, don’t keep the water flow on.
  • If a pipe has burst, don’t let it thaw before you repair the pipe.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal