For all its joys and delights, winter gives us a lot of headaches. Yes, the snow looks nice and it’s fun when you’re a kid, but it stops traffic. Ice is fun in an ice rink, but on the streets, it’s very dangerous. The cold weather is nice if you’re in a warm room, looking through the window, but it makes it more difficult to be outside. If you’re a business owner and you have a responsibility to yourself, your employees, and your customers to keep them comfortable and safe, a cold winter is a source of troubles. Like, for example, bursting water pipes.
Why Do Pipes Burst During the Winter?
We owe the pipe-bursting effects of freezing water to a very peculiar property water has. As opposed to most materials which shrink as they get cooler and expand as they get warmer, water does the opposite. As the temperature drops, the same amount of water will take up more and more space. When it finally turns into ice, it will have around 9% more volume than it had at room temperature.
When water expands, it puts pressure on water pipes. If the pressure is too much for the pipe to handle, it will eventually burst and open the doors to a world of water-related damage to your business.
Cold Weather Preventive Measures
The proverb that says that prevention is better than a cure can be applied to cold-weather related water damage. When it comes to bursting pipes, there are two types of preventive measures you should take. The first is temperature regulation, which aims at preventing the temperature in and around the water pipes from dropping to the point where the water would freeze. The other type of preventive measures is aimed at controlling the water flow through the pipes to either cut it off completely or to try and alleviate some of the pressure caused by cooling water.
Pipes that run through or near the exterior walls are very vulnerable to freezing. A crack in the wall is all it takes to allow the cold air to penetrate the wall and start cooling the water pipe. Cracks and holes in walls are not something that should be left unchecked even under the best weather conditions, but if you’ve put off repairing them, let the coming of the cold weather be a reminder that they need to be fixed. The same goes for doors, windows, and other openings – they all need to be in working order and properly sealed before the temperature plunges.
Next, you need to identify exposed and vulnerable pipes. An exposed pipe located in a room that’s heated around the clock is not at risk, but an exposed pipe in a room that is not heated at all is, so focus your attention on the pipes that are in or near areas where you expect the temperature to get low. If heating those areas proves to be too expensive or impractical for your business, you can use insulating materials to keep the cold from reaching the pipe. Insulation is especially important for any outdoor piping your business has. For indoor piping, you can boost the temperature using heating cables, cables specially designed to provide warmth to pipes and keep them from freezing.
Even if you don’t own the building your business uses, you should know where the shutoff valves are. Quick reflexes can save you from a lot of trouble when a pipe bursts, and you don’t want to run around aimlessly while your business’ floors are being flooded or walls are getting soaked – you want to go straight for the main valve and close it.
But you can use water valves to prevent damage from happening in the first place. If your business has any external faucets it doesn’t need during the winter, you should cut off their water supply. The most important elements of flow control, in terms of prevention, are the good old faucets. If you expect a particularly cold front to hit your business, you should open all the faucets and let them drip. Yes, this is something that will affect your business’ utilities bill, but allowing the water to drip from the faucets has two very useful effects. First, it keeps the water running and makes it less likely that the water will freeze. Second, if the water does freeze in the pipes, a leaky faucet will help alleviate some of the pressure on the pipe, and make it less likely that the pipe will burst.
Flow control can also help you prevent damage caused by snow thawing on your business’ roof. During winter, ice dams sometimes form on roofs. As their name implies, ice dams are layers of ice that form along the colder areas of the roof and prevent snow and water from running off the roof. This, in turn, can cause water to penetrate into your business’ walls. If you notice ice dams on your business’ roof, you should use room-temperature water to make channels in the ice dam to prevent water buildup. Removing the snow from the roof using snow rakes, if possible, is also a good idea.
Early Warning Systems
If the cold weather causes water damage to your business, you’ll want to know it sooner than later. Every second a burst pipe is releasing water into the walls, floors, or rooms translates into money you’ll have to spend to fix the damage.
Leak detection systems might be a good investment. They use either moisture detectors, or they measure the flow of water in the pipes, and they let you know when the set parameters are breached. Passive leak detection systems will work like an alarm, notifying you when it seems a leak has happened. Active leak detection systems might also be capable of automatically stopping the water flow when they notice a leak.
How to React to Cold Weather Related Water Damage
If you determine a pipe has frozen in your business, you can try to fix it yourself. You shouldn’t try to thaw a pipe by using heat sources that involve an open flame, but a hair dryer or a space heater might help.
If that doesn’t work, or if the damage has already happened, your business will most likely need professional help. At EDS Disaster Services, we’ve seen every possible scenario that involves water damage and we’re prepared to tackle all of them.
For starters, we will remove the excess water as quickly as possible, to minimize the damage it causes. We will use moisture detection to determine the damaged areas beyond the obvious ones. If the water damage has caused mold, we will determine what kind of mold you’re dealing with. We will then proceed with mold removal and disinfection, dehumidication and drying to remove the excess moisture. We will also remove any stains caused by water, and we can also help clean and restore carpets affected by water. We might not be able to turn back time and prevent the damage from happening, but we do whatever we can to make it look like it never happened