Back to Basics, Plumbing

Back to Basics: Protecting Your Facility from Frozen Pipes

Back to Basics is an article series that highlights important, but possibly overlooked, information facilities management professionals should know.

Snow and ice storms will likely plague many areas of the United States for the next several weeks. While some facility professionals would like spring to arrive early so they can work while enjoying the nice weather outside, they need to be prepared for frozen pipes, the result of a late winter freeze.

frozen pipes

Many think that frozen pipes are only a problem in the northern United States. However, it can be an even larger issue in the South, where it’s more likely there are unprotected pipes. Since freezing temperatures tend to happen less frequently in the South, facilities in the region are more susceptible to cold snaps.

What Causes Pipes to Freeze?

Frozen pipes become a problem during the winter since water expands as it freezes. This expansion puts a lot of pressure on whatever is containing it, whether it be metal or plastic pipes. No matter their overall strength, expanding water can cause pipes to break, especially in weak spots such as corroded or rusted areas.

Areas Vulnerable to Freezing

Facility professionals must be proactive in finding places of their facilities vulnerable to freezing pipes. They should check the condition of the pipes in several areas, including those exposed to severe cold such as outdoor areas, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, pipes that run along exterior walls and have little or no insulation, closets, warehouses, and isolated storage spaces.

Areas with broken doors or windows can also lead to drops in temperature, which leave facilities vulnerable to freezing. Windows and doors should be repaired or replaced immediately. Windows can be covered with plastic and caulked near pipes and meters. Other areas that can easily freeze include water supply lines in unheated interior areas such as basements, crawl spaces, attics and lofts, roof spaces, and garages.

How Do You Prevent It?

Facility professionals who have experienced a frozen or burst water pipe know first-hand how costly it can be in terms of cleanup and replacement. There are two ways that these incidents can be prevented.


To protect pipes from freezing, facility professionals should consider the following tips:

  • Drain water from water supply lines following manufacturers’ instructions.
  • Let the water drip from faucets served by exposed pipes when it’s cold outside.
  • Remove, drain, and then store outside hoses in a warm indoor location.
  • Protect sprinkler systems by installing a low temperature alarm.
  • Consider relocating exposed pipes.
  • Keep the indoor temperature the same day and night.
  • Vacant building owners/managers should set their thermostats no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Teach colleagues how to shut off water to both the building and to the sprinkler system.
  • Install backup power to ensure the building stays warm in case of a power outage.


Many expert plumbers say some of the ways facility professionals can determine whether their pipes need insulation include:

  • condensation on a pipe;
  • moisture, mold, or mildew in the general area;
  • visible frost or ice on a pipe;
  • heat or hot water insufficient;
  • excessive utility bills; and
  • poor insulation in the vicinity.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) advises those who need to insulate pipes to determine the type of insulation they want to install and how much insulation is necessary based on the length of their pipes.

The DOE suggests that those with gas water heaters should purchase fiberglass pipe-wrap, while those with electric water heaters should purchase pipe sleeves made of polyethylene or neoprene foam. 

Professionals recommend that wrapping outdoor pipes with UL-listed “heat tape,” “heat cable,” or similar materials is better than using simple foam insulation. Heat tape is also recommended to help increase the temperature for pipes located in areas near an outside wall such as attics, basements, and crawl spaces.

Your Pipes Froze or Burst, Now What?

Thawing Frozen Pipes

Unfortunately, pipes can freeze even after taking proper precautions. Facility professionals should consider the following to thaw frozen pipes:

  • Determine if the pipe is frozen by opening the faucet—it is likely frozen if only a trickle comes out.
  • Keep the faucet open to help water melt the ice in the pipe.
  • Use an electric hair dryer or wrap the pipes with an electric heating pad or an electric hair dryer.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored.
  • Check other faucets for additional frozen pipes.
  • Do not use underrated extension cords or overload circuits when using space heaters to warm frozen pipes.
  • Do not attempt to use a torch or open flame of any kind to thaw a pipe.
  • If the area with the frozen pipe cannot be located, or it cannot be unfrozen, call a plumber.

Dealing with Pipe Bursts

The International Facility Management Association Long Island Chapter recommends the following for those who experience pipes that burst because of being frozen:

  • Shut off water;
  • Contact a plumber to replace the burst section of pipe;
  • Remove water through siphons, pumps, buckets, mops, or a wet-dry shop vacuum; and
  • Dry the area using fans and dehumidifiers.

Even though we will hopefully be experiencing springtime temperatures soon, it’s important for facility professionals to know how to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting so that they can protect their properties and save themselves time and money.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.