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The Real Reason That Pipes Burst When They Freeze
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The Real Reason That Pipes Burst When They Freeze

Winter weather puts a remarkable number of stresses on a home, which is why you take special precautions to winterize it against the chill. One important precaution is against pipe freeze: you want exposed piping (usually the pipes around the water heater) to have insulation against losing so much heat to the cold air around them that they freeze.

A frozen pipe is obviously a problem in that it stops the water flow. But there’s 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 to help prevent water damage in the lower parts of your house.)

Why Frozen Pipes Burst

“Because water expands when it freezes.” That’s what most people assume is the cause of pipe bursting due to freezing. Water molecules take on a hexagonal form during freezing, which takes up more volume than liquid form.

However, when water in a pipe expands due to freezing, it expands to the sides, not directly outward. So this isn’t the direct cause of the pipe freeze. The actual cause is the increase in pressure to the side of the frozen section. Because there is less space available between the ice and the closed tap that is “upstream,” the pressure spikes—and this is what causes the later bursting to happen.

Thawing the ice will usually worsen the problem since it raises the pressure further. This is why pipe bursting is especially common at the end of winter when the ice starts to thaw.

If you do encounter frozen pipes at some point this winter, the best way to deal with them is to contact professional plumbers. They’ll repair your pipes without the risk of bursting.

For the best in plumbing repairs, always call on Mallick Plumbing & Heating. We serve Gaithersburg, MD, and the surrounding areas.

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