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Spring is here, but as we know in Connecticut you still can get a cold snap, even in the early spring.  This week we continue with our final winter related homeowner topic that many in Fairfield County may be familiar with, or have experienced first hand: frozen pipes.
When supply water resting inside copper pipes freezes, it causes the copper to expand.  They might not split the first time they freeze, but then again, they just might.  A small split typically occurs where the pressure is greatest along the pipe, but it can also happen at the fittings.  Once the weather turns, and the water unfreezes, then you’ll start to see the leakage.
PEX piping has become popular and is freeze-resistant, but not freeze proof.  A study was done at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that involved the freezing and thawing of PEX pipes.  Two brands were frozen and thawed over 500 times without damage.  It should be noted that some of the fittings in their test did fail though (metal fittings).  Also, PEX-AL-PEX, which is piping that has an internal layer of aluminum bonded to 2 layers of PEX, did not fare any better than copper.
Other supply materials, such as CPVC, will crack, and Polybutylene, which is freeze resistant, may survive but often the fittings will fail depending on the type used.
Where should you look for vulnerable pipes?  Any supply piping that runs through an unconditioned space, such as an attic, a vented crawlspace, or a garage, is at risk.  Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation and exterior hose bibbs are also subject to freezing.
Insulation can be purchased and wrapped around the supply piping, where it is accessible, to help.  In extreme cases, heat tape may be needed.  This is a heated tape that would be wrapped around the length of the pipe and plugged in to provide warmth.  Be sure to follow the manufacturers installation instructions when providing power to this and consult with a licensed electrician if needed.  Many extension cords are rated for use as a substitute for permanent wiring.
If the pipes are supplying a faucet, running a small trickle of water may also help prevent the pipe from freezing.
If you have a frozen pipe, and it hasn’t burst.  Your best bet is to contact a licensed plumber.  While heating the frozen area is helpful, depending on your supply piping, you have to be very careful not to use too much heat or concentrate it in one area for too long.

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Spring is here! Stay tuned for what’s coming up next in our Fairfield Home Inspector’s Blog series!