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What To Do When a Frozen Pipe Bursts: A Complete Guide

Winter is just around the corner. In most places, that means one thing:

Cold weather is coming.

And with it comes the risk of frozen and burst pipes. In addition to being a big mess, frozen pipes can be an expensive problem to fix. 

According to data from State Farm, losses related to frozen and burst pipes topped $270 million in 2018 alone, an increase of more than $162 million from the prior year. If you live here in Illinois, you’ll be surprised to know that our state ranks at the top for frozen pipe water loss claims. 

Here’s the worst part, though:

The average cost of a water damage or frozen pipe claim is a whopping $10,900

While frozen pipes can wreak havoc on your property, they’re also relatively easy to prevent. At ServiceMaster of Lake Shore, we provide burst pipe water damage restoration services to commercial and residential customers throughout the Chicagoland area, so we understand how to deal with burst pipes quickly and effectively.

In this blog, we’ll share our top tips for preventing frozen pipes, and what to do if a pipe bursts. 

Let’s dive in.

frozen burst pipes with ice around them

Why Do Frozen Pipes Burst?

Frozen pipes burst because of increased pressure in the section of pipe where the freezing occurs. 

When a pipe freezes, it creates less available space between the ice and the tap “upstream” of the ice jam. 

As a result, the pressure skyrockets, and the pipe bursts. 

3 Common Myths About Frozen Pipes

Myth: Ice causes pipes to burst

Fact:  Ultimately, ice isn’t the culprit for burst pipes – pressure is. When water freezes, the molecules take on a hexagonal form. While this does take up more volume than water in liquid form, water in a frozen pipe expands to the sides, not directly outward. 

As the ice freezes and expands, it forms a dam that liquid water can’t flow past. The pressure builds up behind that ice blockage and trouble begins.

Myth: Pipes are most prone to bursting during the process of freezing

Fact: Do frozen pipes always burst? The answer is no – pipes don’t always burst when they’re frozen, or when they’re in the process of freezing. 

In fact, it’s the thawing process that can be most problematic for compromised pipes. Once a frozen pipe starts to thaw, the pressure caused by newly freed water rushing through the pipe can be enough to cause a break.

Myth: Homes in cold, northern climates are most prone to bursting

Fact: While the temperatures in northern climates may be frigid, the homes there are also built to withstand the climate. 

That means pipes are usually located on the inside of the building’s insulated walls, which protects them from subzero temperatures. 

On the other hand, pipes in warmer climates may be in less protected areas of a building, placing them at increased risk of freezing. 

7 Warning Signs Your Frozen Pipe Has Burst

water damaged chicago wall

If it’s been very cold and you’re worried that a frozen pipe may have burst in your home, look for these tell-tale signs:

1. Fluctuating water pressure

One of the most common signs of a burst pipe is water pressure that goes up and down erratically. 

When you turn on the faucet in the morning, you get a trickle of water. In the afternoon, that same faucet may release a shocking torrent of water. 

If you notice this anywhere in your home, contact a plumber immediately.

2. Water that looks or smells strange

When a frozen pipe bursts, dirt, rust, and debris can contaminate the water within it. 

These contaminants will alter the taste, appearance, and smell of the water, and can quickly become a major health threat. 

If you notice that the water coming from your tap smells like rotten eggs or has a rust-colored tint, call an emergency plumber immediately. 

3. Strange noises in the walls

Wondering how to know if a frozen pipe has burst? 

Listen for it. 

If you notice clunking, rattling, or dripping noises coming from within your walls, you likely have a broken pipe – even if you can’t see signs of leaking water..

4. Mold or mildew

Mold and mildew can begin to form in just 24-48 hours of water exposure. If you notice new signs of mold or mildew in your home, or a musty smell, call a professional plumber to check for broken pipes.

5. Pooling water

Pooling water is one of the most obvious (and most alarming) signs of a broken pipe. 

Look for pooling water under sinks, near pipe fittings and fixtures, and around appliances like toilets and dishwashers. 

6. Increasing utility bills

If you’ve noticed that your water bill is higher than normal lately, it could be a sign of a broken pipe. 

The broken pipe may be leaking water into the ground or another area of your home. 

Even if you don’t see or hear leaking water, it’s smart to call a plumber. They’ll know how to check a frozen burst pipe, even in hidden areas of your home. 

7. Water stains

Finally, check for water stains on the walls around your home. Most plumbing pipes run through interior walls. 

If they freeze and burst, they’ll likely leave visible water stains on your drywall. Cracked, peeling, or blistered paint is another telltale indication of a burst pipe.  

Your Frozen Pipe Burst – Now What? 5 Steps to Take Right Now 

burst pipes chicago

When a frozen pipe bursts, it can be a dramatic event. To avoid further damage, keep calm and follow these steps:

1. Turn off the water supply

Locate your home’s main water supply and shut it off. This will stop water from flowing and help limit the damage to your property. 

If you’re concerned that the leak may also be near electrical wires or appliances, shut off the main electricity, as well. 

2. Call an emergency plumber

Once you’ve stopped the leak, contact an emergency plumber to come out and fix the pipe and check for other at-risk areas of your home’s plumbing. 

3. Document the scene

Before you begin cleaning up the mess, take some photos of the damage. Document the burst pipe itself (if you can see it), the scope of the leak, and any personal items that were damaged by the water. 

These photos will be necessary when you file a homeowner’s insurance claim later.

4. Start cleanup

Once the scene is safe, start removing as much water as you can. Use towels to mop up pooling water and install some household fans in the area to promote drying.

5. Contact a water damage restoration company

While you may be able to clean up surface water, you cannot restore a flooded area on your own. 

Instead, contact a professional water damage restoration company like ServiceMaster of Lake Shore here in Chicago. Our team will come to your home and evaluate the damage. 

We’ll also assess for hazards like water contamination or mold formation and get to work restoring your property to livable condition once more. 

How to Thaw a Frozen Pipe that Hasn’t Burst Yet

If your pipe is frozen, you still have some time to act before it bursts. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Find the place where the pipe is frozen. This can be difficult, since freezing often occurs within walls. If you can’t find the frozen area, contact an emergency plumber. 
  • Warm the pipe. If you can find the frozen area, use a heating pad, warm washcloth, hair dryer, or heater to thaw it gently
  • Avoid boiling water. No matter what you do, NEVER pour hot or boiling water onto a frozen pipe. If the pipe changes temperatures too rapidly, it will burst. Instead, apply gentle, gradual heat to remove the ice within the pipe.  

How Much Does It Cost to Fix a Burst Pipe? 

Depending on where you are, you’ll pay about $200-$1,000 to fix a broken pipe. Keep in mind, though, that that’s only the cost of repairing the pipe itself. Often, you’ll also have to factor in repairs for flooding and water damage in your home. 

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Frozen Pipe Damage?

As a rule, the answer is yes. Most homeowners’ insurance policies will pay for water damage, so the damage to your walls, flooring, furniture, ceilings, and other areas will usually be covered by insurance. 

That said, water damage claims can also be tricky, and some insurance policies do not cover frozen pipes. 

With that in mind, be sure you work with a restoration company like ServiceMaster of Lake Shore, who can help you learn how to claim damage from frozen pipes that burst. 

How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing in the First Place

pipe insulation tubes

Frozen pipes can be a nightmare to deal with. As such, we recommend learning how to prevent them in the first place. 

Here are a few smart tips that can help keep your pipes safe and freeze-free all winter long:

  • Keep your heat on. Keep the heat in your building on, even if you’re gone for vacation. Keeping your thermostat set to at least 50 degrees will help your pipes resist freezing.
  • Insulate at-risk pipes. Locate pipes in high-risk areas like your crawl space where they could burst, attic, garage, or unfinished basement and insulate them with pipe insulation, which you can find at your local hardware or home improvement store. You may also consider adding more insulation to at-risk areas, like the attic and the basement. 
  • Protect your outdoor plumbing. Disconnect and drain garden hoses and have your sprinkler system professionally flushed before the cold weather hits.
  • Use caulk to seal cracks. Use caulk or foam sealant to fill holes or cracks in the exterior walls of your home. While the drafts created by these gaps can be minimal, even a little cold air is enough to chill your pipes and send your utility bills skyrocketing. 
  • Encourage air flow. If the weather forecast calls for frigid weather, protect your pipes by opening cabinet doors below sinks and keeping all the doors (and heating vents) in your home open. This helps encourage the circulation of warm air, which helps prevent chilly pipes. 
  • Leave your faucets to drip. Open your faucets just enough that they slowly drip. This simple trick reduces pressure in your pipes and helps prevent ruptures.  

Dealing with Water Damage from Burst Pipes in Your Chicago, IL Home or Business? We can Help!

If you had a frozen pipe burst, you don’t need to navigate the situation alone. Here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore, our team provides professional water damage restoration services to customers just like you, all throughout Chicagoland. 

Contact us today to learn more about our 24/7 emergency services. 

Call today for a free estimate: 312-707-8597