What causes pipes to burst when they freeze?

Prevent a 'Pipe'tastrophe

In colder regions of the U.S., most homes are built so the water pipes are protected from the elements. Insulated water pipes are placed in heated, interior areas of a home, steering clear of unheated attics, crawl spaces and exterior walls. In warmer regions of the U.S., homeowners aren't always as fortunate. Freezing is rare, which leads to less attention to water pipe insulation and placement during construction. During a cold snap, this could translate into a frozen -- and then watery -- mess [source: The Weather Channel].

What's the best way to prevent frozen water pipes, wherever you live?

  • Insulate water pipes exposed to cold. These water pipes could be located in an attic or crawl space or along an exterior wall. Wherever they are, add a layer of insulation and to help protect pipes from freezing temperatures. For an extra measure, wrap the insulated pipes in heat tape.
  • Seal leaks that let cold air into your home, especially those near your water pipes. Common culprits include spots around electrical, telephone or cable wiring that enters your home through an exterior wall. Also caulk around dryer vents and pipes.

If you're right in the middle of a cold snap, there are few additional precautions you can take, too.

  • Allow a steady drip or slight stream of water to flow from a faucet all day and night. If you have hot and cold taps, be sure to keep both open.
  • Keep the thermostat turned up, even at night. A warm interior can help some heat reach your home's water pipes.
  • Open cabinet doors under sinks and along exterior walls so warm air can enter the space near water pipes.
  • If you suspect a pipe has frozen, or is freezing, warm it with a hair dryer. Apply heat near the faucet and then work your way backward [source: State Farm].

Author's Note: What causes pipes to burst when they freeze?

We have some family friends who just spent five weeks without the use of their kitchen because of a burst water pipe. They waited and watched as new floors, cabinets and appliances were installed -- and begrudgingly took their baby and toddler to dine out for nearly every meal. The expense, she said, was astounding. And the food choices were more limited than my friend expected, especially for someone who leans toward an organic, whole food diet. I can't imagine ushering young children to a restaurant every day. It's challenging enough while on vacation. Fitting into a daily routine would be exhausting, don't you think?

Related Articles


  • State Farm. "Preventing Frozen Pipes."(Jan. 16, 2014) http://learningcenter.statefarm.com/residence/maintenance/preventing-frozen-pipes/
  • Sullivan, Adam. "Historic NH Inn Cleans Up From Burst Pipes." WCAX.com. Jan. 14, 2014. (Jan. 17, 2014) http://www.wcax.com/story/24449827/historic-nh-inn-cleans-up-from-burst-pipes
  • The Physics Van. "Q&A: Freezing Water." (Jan. 15, 2014) http://van.physics.illinois.edu/qa/listing.php?id=1744
  • The Weather Channel. "Preventing Frozen Pipes." (Jan. 15, 2014) http://www.weather.com/activities/homeandgarden/home/hometips/severeweather/pipefreeze_prevent.html