The Physics of Freezing Pipes

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How fix frozen pipes

One of the earliest signs of a frozen pipe is when no water comes out of your faucet. If you have a basement look for any problems or leaks. You can call a plumber for help or attempt to thaw the pipes yourself.

Burst water pipes are caused by the expansion of freezing ice against the walls of the pipe, right? Wrong. 

In a remarkable series of laboratory and field experiments, researchers at the University of Illinois have demonstrated that the actual cause of damage to freezing water pipes isn’t the force of the expanding ice on the pipe, but rather an extreme rise in water pressure downstream from the blockage.

Water pressure can rise in freezing situations from about 40 pounds per square inch (psi) to over 4,000 pounds psi.

For example, copper pipe is exposed to unusually cold temperatures, and ice begins to form on the pipe’s inside walls. Since water volume expands by about 8 percent as it turns to ice, the ice formation eventually can completely block the water flow.

Water upstream from the blockage is able to flow back to its source, such as the street connection (if you do not have a water backflow device).  But the water downstream is trapped because the faucets are closed.  As the ice continues to form and expand, pressures downstream from the blockage skyrocket.  Because the entire section of pipe experiences the same elevated pressure, the failure can occur at any point, even within the heated space of the building.

How to thaw frozen pipe.

When a frozen pipe burst, it can spill several hundred gallons of water per hour! Average cost of flooding can be $5000 according to the insurance industry. Know how your homeowners insurance can help repair damage from a frozen and burst water pipe.

PDM Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Since 1885 serves great Joliet SW Chicagoland.

 

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