Why Frozen Pipes Colorado Can Go Undetected (Plus Go-To Inspection and Prevention Methods)

It’s spring. The birds are chirping. The sky is blue. So, you’re probably wondering why we’ve written a blog post about frozen pipes.

The truth is, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, “The…most common type of failure occurs when the supply system material fails…result[ing] in a leaking or bursting pipe.”[1]

Guess what the second type is?

Yep, frozen pipes (18%).[2]

If a one-eighth inch pipe crack gushes out 250 gallons of water per day, you know a bursting pipe (or pipes!) causes hundreds of gallons more.

Which then leads to significant water damage and mold growth.

Not to mention the costs to fix not just the pipes but the property damage as well.

So, we’ve created this guide for you about how to detect frozen pipes and most importantly…how to prevent them.

(Because, while we enjoy helping out our customers, we don’t want you to have to call us unless you have to.)

This brings us back to spring. Why spring? Yes, the high temperatures mean the likelihood of frozen pipes Colorado is low.

But that’s the thing. Why wait until they’re frozen? Why not know the preventative strategies now so you’re prepared come fall and winter.

And, frozen pipes Colorado can go undetected.

Why?

Read on to find out!

Why we should be concerned with frozen pipes

Tere’s a little ice around some of the pipes. So, what’s the deal?

Frozen pipes are dangerous for a number of reasons.

For one, your water supply may be cut off. This means no water to wash dishes, take a shower, water the plants and landscaping, use the toilet, or wash your hands.

That puts a damper on your day-to-day life.

Also, the frozen water in the pipes put pressure on them. With time, if the pipes aren’t thawed, the pipes won’t be able to take the pressure. What’s surprising is that it doesn’t matter what the pipe material is. They’ll still burst.

Plastic, steel, kryptonite, you name it.

This is because of the way water expands when it freezes…

The science behind why water expands when it freezes

Each water molecule has one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. Hence, H2O.

The hydrogen atoms each hold one positive charge. While the oxygen atom holds a negative charge.

The negative and positive charges attract, making the two hydrogen atoms and the oxygen atom form a bond. What you end up with is a “Mickey Mouse head.”[3]

So, water freezes, creating a network of “Mickey Mouse heads.” Or net crystals with multiple gaps between them.

Which, compared to other things that freeze, is the exact opposite.

Normally substances shrink when they're colder, and expand when they’re hotter.

Not water.

This is why when water freezes in your pipes, the water expands…and expands…and expands.

With so little room to accommodate this expansion, the pipe(s) burst.

What pipes are at risk?

Pipes that don’t have insulation, heat tape, or pipe sleeves are more likely to burst.

Also, hose bibs and exterior piping along the property are the most vulnerable because they’re more exposed to harsher weather conditions than interior pipes.

Count water sprinkler lines and pool supply lines in as well.

Plus, pipes in basements and crawl spaces are more at risk. Those are the rooms that have more moisture. Hence, more water.

In 32°F or below temperatures, there’s then more water that can freeze.

On top of that, very cold pipes that have a sudden surge of hot water are at risk of bursting. This is because pipes can’t tolerate that quick and extreme of temperatures.

And older homes (roughly 16-40 years old) represent the majority of supply system material failure claims.[4]

This probably has to do with the age of the pipes. The older they are, the shorter tolerance they have in withstanding the water pressure produced by the freezing water.

But there’s one more reason which makes frozen pipes Colorado much more susceptible…

Here’s why frozen pipes Colorado go undetected

Houses that are in warm(ish) climates can be more susceptible to frozen pipes rupturing.

Why?

A lot of these homes are built with low insulation. Plus, they have pipes outside with little to no protection. To put it simply, they weren’t made to withstand temperatures 32°F and below on a daily basis.

Yes, Colorado does have some days below 32°F (many actually in certain regions).

December 30, normally the coldest day of the year in Denver, boasts “an average low of 22°F and a high of 44°F.”[5]

That’s not to say every house in Colorado is poorly insulated.

(And it should be noted that many regions in Colorado, such as Boulder and Burlington, fall below 32°F consistently during the winter (and some spring!) months.)

However, there’s a good possibility that some houses aren’t, especially homes more Southwest where it’s warmer.

Colorado's location

Also, since it isn’t located in the north, many believe they don’t have to worry about frozen pipes Colorado.

(A good deal of houses in the northern states that have plumbing in the exterior walls and basements are at a high risk of frozen pipes rupturing.[6] These climates have extremely cold temperatures—especially in January.)

Surprisingly though, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety reports that “The proportion of total water loss claims attributed to supply system material failure was twice as high in the South Region than in the North Region.”[7]

Another source mentions something similar, saying, “Pipes that are located in [southern] climates which rarely see cold temperatures may be particularly vulnerable to freezing.”[8]

While many (non-Coloradan) people believe Colorado is located in the Midwest, it’s actually a part of the “Mountain West,” just barely missing the Southwest state cutoff.

So, while Colorado may not cleanly fall under the North or South, it is more South than North—especially areas in Colorado Springs and south of that. So, these statements do apply to an extent to Colorado.

Meaning it can be easy for frozen pipes Colorado to go undetected. And then wreak havoc.

So, how can you detect frozen pipes?

Inspect all the pipes to see if any have frost around them. If there’s frost on the outside, you know there must be frost on the inside.

No, you don’t have to inspect your pipes every couple of hours. Just pay more attention when the temperature drops to 32°F or lower.

But a lot of times, there may not be frost on the outside. Here’s a test you can do to identify freezing in the pipes:

Simply turn on your faucets. If only a trickle comes out (or none at all), there’s a good possibility your pipes are frozen.[9]

Other ways to know if you have frozen pipes:

  • Unusual sounds from the pipes such as banging, whistling, and clanking—anything that sounds abnormal. This normally indicates some level of damage.[10]
  • Nasty odor and/or discolored water. Which could mean the sewage is frozen.[11]
  • Abnormally looking pipes. We’re talking about bulges in the middle, bumps, and swelling.
  • Dripping sounds caused by leaks. This could mean the pipe is slowly starting to rupture due to the mounting frozen water pressure.
  • Signs of water damage. Unfortunately, this indicates the pipe is leaking, hairline cracked or is on the road to rupturing. To find out what water damage signs you should look out for, read our article series, The Lowdown About Water Damage Part 1 and Part 2.
  • Possibly even signs of mold. The mold could be from the water damage caused by the broken pipe. For a rundown of common methods to spot mold, check out What You Need to Know About Mold: From Mold Inspection to Mold Prevention.

Yes, you probably won’t need to put this information into action now, being it’s spring. But it’s better to be ahead of the frozen pipe game.

Still, you can do utilize this information right now…which can be the difference between spending thousands on water damage, mold, and structural damage.

Use this prevention method to combat frozen pipes

In a nutshell, you want to create some way for your pipes to get heat without creating a fire hazard.

One popular option is using UL-certified heat tape. Many people not only use it for their pipes but gutters and roof edge as well.

Heat tape is wiring that outputs heat to the object it’s around.Nowadays, a lot of heat tapes come with a thermostat. If the thermostat drops, the wiring in the heat tape turns on, outputting heat to raise the temperature back up.

Because of this on-off method, the tape won’t eat up your electricity.

So how do you install it?

Follow the instructions on the package, attaching the tape from one end of the pipe to the other, on the ENTIRE pipe. Not doing this may allow water to freeze in one part of the pipe.

It’s important that you get the appropriate size for the pipe you want to cover—not too big, but not too small. Not to mention, the automatic heat tape that’s designated for pipes. And, on top of that, make sure it’s certified.

Types of heat tape certification

Look for either of these certification:[12]

  • Capital “U” and “L” with a black circle around it in the lower part of the packaging. This shows that the heat tape is certified by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  • Large, black “C” wrapped three-quarters of the way around a capital “S” and “A.” Which indicates the tape is certified by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).

Both of these organizations are highly reputable.

Bringing us to another tip: No matter what, do not wrap heat tape around itself.

Why?

Heat tape is not actually tape. It’s wiring with rubber coating it. Since the “tape” emits heat, wrapping it around itself will cause the rubber coating to melt or become damaged, exposing the wires.

In fact, this has led to many house fires and injuries.

Sadly, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that heat tape is the cause for 2,000 fires, 10 deaths, and 100 injuries per year. Which comes out to around $25 million in damages.[13]

What the CPSC recommends

To mitigate this, the CPSC recommends several precautionary measures:[14]

  • Plug the tape into a three-prong outlet with a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).
  • Make sure you follow the instructions in regards to installing the thermostat should it be hanging? Should it be on the pipe?
  • Don’t cover the heat tape with insulation. And, if there is any insulation around, it should be non-flammable.
  • Place the heat tape directly on the pipe, not on anything else such as insulation.
  • And, check the heat tape periodically. Replace it if you see fraying, teeth marks, or damage of any sort. If not, replace after 3 years of use.

More heat tape safety measures

We’d also like to add on, saying if you already have heat tape on your pipes and it isn’t UL- or CSA-certified, you should switch it.

Plus, regularly check the CPSC website for up-to-date recall information. If you can, register your heat tape with the manufacturer. That way, you can receive emails about any recall action.

And make sure the area isn’t moist. This can be a problem, especially for basements and crawl spaces.

If you are having moisture issues in your crawl space, check out our article, Crawl Space 101: What They Are And Why They Require A Crawl Space Moisture Barrier.

Moisture can lead to short circuiting, particularly if the wire coating is cracked. So, you may need to install a crawl space moisture barrier if you haven’t already.

On top of this, know that you should not put heat tape over leaks.

Here’s why…

 Why water and electricity are a dangerous combination

Let’s just say water and electricity never go well together.

But, technically speaking, water isn’t a conduit for electricity. Pure water that is.

Under the best conditions—when it’s been boiled and devoid of minerals and impurities—pure water is actually a fantastic insulator.[15]

It’s regular (or not distilled) water you need to watch out for.

Why?

Normal water such as the water found in your tap—aka the water flowing through your pipes—has many different types of minerals in it. Salt, magnesium…

These minerals carry electrical charges. Which then are attracted to the electricity. This is why growing up you most likely heard warnings such as don’t leave the hair dryer next to the sink. Or always unplug electrical cords when your hands are dry.

These same types of warnings apply to using heat tape on leaky pipes.

The truth is, there’s only a sliver of coating between the electrical wires and leaking pipe. Any minor tear in the coating could spell out disaster. This is also along the lines of why you shouldn’t use an extension cord for heat tape.

So, pure (or distilled) water’s a great insulator. Regular water, not so much.

Other preventative measures

Some other preventative methods besides heat tape to do before the colder months:

  • (Right before the cooler months) drain the water outside of the home (i.e. outdoor hoses and hose bibs, swimming pools, sprinkler lines—drip irrigation systems included…). For draining, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions.[16]
  • (Right before the cooler months) close the valves that lead to the exterior hose bibs.
  • Make sure all pipes have proper insulation.
  • Periodically inspect the pipes located in the basement or crawl space, attic, garage, and under the kitchen cabinets—pretty much any place pipes have trouble in getting heat.
  • If you have the extra cash, hire professionals to relocate pipes on the exterior or other exposed areas to more protected areas.
  • If you have some spare cash floating around, invest in installing (more) insulation in spaces that may not receive enough—attic, basement, and crawl space.
  • Keep garage doors closed to maintain heat.
  • Use caulking or another weather-stripping material to seal any gaps or cracks around windows and doors, eliminating drafts that may lead up to frozen pipes.

Why spring is the season to discuss frozen pipes Colorado (let alone anywhere else)

As we’ve mentioned before, learning this information in spring means that come fall and winter, you’ll be well prepared to handle the frozen pipe months, with January being the prime month for frozen pipes.[17]

This information is important since, as the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety puts it, “Frozen pipe-related failures resulted in losses there were twice as severe as those caused by plumbing supply system material failures.”[18]

And these preventative measures in spring extend to heat tape. Because, when it comes to installing the tape, you should do it before the cold weather.

Why?

The warmer weather means pipes are less likely to freeze. So, there will be less leaking pipes caused by the freezing water pressure. Aka more space the heat tape can cover—remember how heat tape can’t go over leaking pipes?

Preventative measures during the colder seasons

When it does get cold, even if you’ve taken the preventative measures listed above, there are still some tips for fall and winter that will further help prevent frozen pipes Colorado (or any other state for that matter).

First, periodically do the sink test we mentioned earlier—where you turn on the faucets to see how pressurized the stream is.

Again, if there’s no water dripping, locate the frozen pipe. If you can’t access the area the frozen pipe is in, call a professional to do it for you.

Also, throughout the day, keep the kitchen cabinets underneath the sink open. That way, warm air from the heater can circulate around those pipes.

For the pipes in the basement or crawlspace, place portable heaters around them.

Like we said with heat tape, make sure the heaters aren’t near flammable materials. This is more of a reason why non-flammable insulation should be installed (although insulation around any potential flammable-producing material is speculative).

In addition to this, turn your faucet on to a slightly lukewarm, consistent drip. This will prevent pipes from potentially rupturing from the drastic temperature shift.

Why does this happen?

During the cooler months, even if your pipes aren’t frozen, they’re colder than in the warmer months.

The cold temperature will cause the pipes to shrink. (Note this is the piping material, not the water—water expands when it freezes.) A sudden rush of hot water will warm up the pipes too quickly, making them expand unevenly. Which calls out potential disaster warning.

Remember, consistency is king (no pun intended).

This applies to your thermostat setting as well. Especially during the cooler months, set it at the same temperature in the day and night.

As a general rule, if you do decide to go out, leave your heater on to a temperature no lower than 55 degrees.

We don’t recommend much higher, particularly if you’ll be out for a while.

While it is cold, high indoor heat and moisture can cause mold growth. This is another problem, which we address here.

If you are out of the house for a couple of days, don’t keep the heater running without frequent supervision. For that reason, have someone else frequently check your house.

Want more tips about frozen pipes, mold, and water damage?

Send us a message!

Also, what other comment and questions do you have regarding frozen pipes Colorado specifically?

Leave a comment. We want to know!

 

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[1] Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety: Water Damage Studies

[2] Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety: Water Damage Studies

[3] The Naked Scientists: Why does water expand when it freezes?

[4] Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety: Water Damage Studies

[5] Weather Spark: Average Weather in Denver, Colorado United States

[6] Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety: Water Damage Studies

[7] Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety: Water Damage Studies

[8] The Balance: 3 Signs of Frozen Pipes and Why It’s Dangerous

[9] The Balance: 3 Signs of Frozen Pipes and Why It’s Dangerous

[10] Property Casualty 360°: The big freeze: 5 signs your pipes are frozen and how to thaw them

[11] Property Casualty 360°: The big freeze: 5 signs your pipes are frozen and how to thaw them

[12] Washington Post: A Safety Alert on Heat Tapes

[13] Washington Post: A Safety Alert on Heat Tapes

[14] United States Consumer Product Safety Commission: CPSC Re-Issues Heat Tape Guidelines in Wake of Zoo Fire

[15] Science ABC: Does Water Really Conduct Electricity?

[16] American Red Cross: Frozen Pipes: Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes

[17] Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety: Water Damage Studies

[18] Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety: Water Damage Studies

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