When wintertime arrives, so with it come the two words every homeowner dreads more than any other: “uninvited in-laws.” Just kidding...sort of. No, the two words we’re talking about are, “burst pipes.”
It’s one of the worst experiences a homeowner can endure, and unfortunately, it’s also the most common experience. Water damage from burst pipes is the number one claim on homeowners’ insurance, accompanied by a litany of ghastly grievances, including:
- Rotted wood and rusted steel framework, i.e. compromised infrastructure
- Mildew and destruction of furniture and valuables
- Swelling in drywall, which leads to separation of seams, peeling, ceiling collapse
- Repair/replacement of broken pipe
- Final insurance claim of $5000-$50,0000, depending on extent of damage and ultimate reduction in resale value.
The good news is, you can act now to secure your home from future incident; or should mother nature have other plans, at least ensure every step is honored to effectively and efficiently restore your home to pre-flood conditions.
Here are the four “P’s” for burst pipes:
A homeowner’s best attempt to stave off burst pipes involves these critical steps:
- Insulate all pipes which are exposed to outside elements, such as hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, water supply pipes in the basement, crawl space, attics, garages, kitchen cabinets and pipes that run along exterior walls. Options include: “pipe sleeves,” UL-listed “heat tape,” heat cables, even ¼-inch of newspaper
- Drain water from swimming pool in winter
- Place insulating dome or other covering on outdoor faucets, hose bibs, spigots
- Keep garage doors closed if water supply lines in garage
- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around plumbing
- Let cold water drip from faucets at a trickle
- Seal any leaks/cracks around plumbing; near sink, tub, toilets, pipes themselves, cable wiring, dryer vents
- Keep cold and hot water taps open
- Keep thermostat set to same temperature during day and night
- If going away, leave heat on in the house. Set temperature to no lower than 55 degrees
What if the pipes are already frozen?
Telltale signs of a frozen pipe include:
- Turning on faucet and water comes out as a trickle or not at all
- Toilet flushes but doesn’t refill
- Water line is coated in frost
- Water line is bulging
Follow these steps to thaw:
- Turn off water supply to the section of the plumbing that is frozen (note: be ready with a bucket and mop!)
- Apply heat to section of frozen pipe using electric heating pad, hair dryer, space heater, heat lamp, towels soaked in hot water, or thermostatically controlled heat tape ($50-$200 depending on length)
Do not use an open propane flame torch. This is a serious fire hazard!
You have an emergency plan for fires, tornadoes, and break-ins. It’s time to add a burst-pipe action plan to the mix:
- First and foremost: Make sure every householder member knows exactly where the main water shut-off valve is and how to turn it off!
- Have the valve inspected before extreme weather arrives; older, gate valves are prone to sticking so you may want to replace it with a newer, ball valve ($200-$400)
- Consider a leak detection alarm. These send mobile alerts to your devices while you’re away and allow you to turn off the water line remotely.
- Consider buying a shop vac, sump pump, extra fans and dehumidifiers just in case
When a pipe has burst timely mitigation is important for reducing damage and maximizing insurance coverage. It’s a race against the clock. Harmful bacteria and active mold spores will grow within hours of a flood. The goal is to get as much water out and as much air circulating in as quickly as possible. Start here:
- Shut off the main water supply line immediately! Up to 500 gallons of water can gush for every minute the break remains unchecked, enough to fill a residential swimming pool in under 15 minutes
- Call a professional remediation company. Some, like Tidal Wave, will arrive within 30 minutes of your call.
- If the affected area has exposed wiring, DO NOT ENTER and cut the circuit breaker to the space. Wait for help.
- If it’s safe, start removing water via mops, sponges, towels, a Shop Vac or sump pump...
- Open doors, windows, cabinets and drawers
- Run floor fans and dehumidifiers. DO NOT TURN on ceiling fans as the drywall above may be warped and prone to collapse
- If HVAC ducts are submerged in water, DO NOT TURN on the A/C
- Remove all area rugs
- Take tons of pictures! Document every affected item for the insurance claim
- Once the professionals arrive, then call your insurance company to make a claim
Having a professional crisis relief company by your side during a burst pipe has many benefits, including:
- Advanced, thermal-infused cameras which locate the exact area of contusion deep within your home’s foundation.
- Cutting-edge, water-absorbing equipment, such as Hydro X Extreme Extractors and volume foggers
- Experience working with insurance companies to slice through the “red tape” of claims processing