Your house may be warm and cozy, but chances are your water pipes aren’t. When temperatures dip too low, those pipes are in danger of freezing and bursting. If that happens, you’re in for a hefty bill…

Causes of burst pipes

Winter is a common season for frozen pipe bursts. That’s because water expands when it freezes. So, when the water in your pipes becomes ice, it takes up more space and pushes against the sides of your metal or plastic pipes. That pressure continues to build up. When it reaches the breaking point, a pipe can burst and send water flowing.

Pipes can also burst for other reasons. This includes corrosion, as pipes rust and weaken over time. Tree roots can interfere with outside pipes. Shifting soil from construction around your home has a similar effect. Finally, clogs from toilet paper and hair can be large enough to cause pipes to burst.


What to do if your pipes burst

You want to take quick action if a pipe has burst in your house. Here’s what to do.

1. Turn off the main water supply. This will keep the water from flowing uncontrollably. If you live in an apartment building, you won’t have access to the main shutoff valve. Contact your landlord right away so he or she can take action. (Pro Tip: Most main water shutoff valves are located close to your water heater or furnace.)

2. Shut off the power. This will help ensure that you don’t get electrocuted through highly charged water that has come in contact with your electrical system.

3. Call a plumber. When pipes burst, it’s best to let a professional handle the problem. If you know that water has affected your electrical system, call an electrician as well.

4. Drain the pipes. You want to get the water out of your pipes to avoid more freezing, bursting, and leaking. With the water main still off, turn on all the cold taps and let the water run. Then turn off your hot water heater and turn on the hot taps. Let the water run. Finally, flush all the toilets.

5. If you turn on the water and only a trickle comes out, you may still have a frozen pipe. Keep the faucet on. As you defrost the ice ball, you want water to be able to flow freely. Use a hair dryer to safely thaw the pipes. Move it around to reach as many places as possible. Alternatively, wet some towels in hot water and place them across the pipes. Replace them as they cool. Do not use an open flame to warm your pipes. That could cause a fire or damage the pipes.

6. Assess the damage. Figure out where the broken pipe is. A plumber can help you to do this.

7. Contact your insurance agent. They will advise you on how to file a claim, and also what the policy may cover. They will send a representative out to inspect the damage.

8. Clean up any standing water. A wet/dry vacuum will pull water from carpets. Dehumidifiers also can help. You will need to clean the area thoroughly. Consider a professional repair that can help prevent future costly problems like mold.


How to prevent frozen pipes

You can take steps to prevent your pipes from freezing and bursting. Follow this checklist.

1. Pipes most likely to freeze are outside or in unheated areas of your home like basements, attics, crawl spaces, garages, and cupboards. These include outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, and pipes close to the outside of the house.

2. Add insulation to these places, such as your attic, basement or crawlspace. You can cover your pipes with insulation, too. You can find it at your local hardware store. Measure the length of the pipe and cut the insulation foam to size. Wrap the pipe with insulation. Seal the seam with tape.

3. Consider heat tape which is not tape at all but a type of wiring. It looks like an extension cord that plugs into a wall and then wraps around the pipe. If you use heat tape, make sure it is designated for water pipes and properly installed. Check the tape monthly while in use. Remove it if there are cracks, bite marks, or signs of deterioration.

4. Caulk the cracks in your walls and foundation to keep cold air out. Ask a professional contractor to make sure that your basement is appropriately sealed.

5. Remember to turn off outdoor water faucets in winter. Disconnect your garden hoses. Drain water from sprinkler and swimming pool lines. Do not put antifreeze in these lines, as it is environmentally harmful and dangerous to people, pets, and wildlife.

6. When temperatures are very cold outside, turn a faucet on cold and let it drip to a trickle. This keeps water flowing and helps prevent freezing. (Pro Tip: Put a bucket underneath to collect that water and use it to water your plants.)

7. Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow heat to circulate. Just make sure to relocate or safeguard any chemicals that could be hazardous to children or pets.

8. Set up fans to blow heat into colder rooms. Or use space heaters. You can add a space heater to a room where pipes are exposed; however, use caution. Make sure it’s plugged into an outlet with a ground fault circuit interrupter to prevent electric shock. Do not use an extension cord and only use the space heater when you are home.

9. Keep your thermostat set to the same warm setting day and night. If you plan to be away from home for any length of time, make sure that the thermostat is set to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit to help protect against frozen pipes.

10. Consider relocating your pipes if you continually have issues with freezing.


Your home is one of your greatest investments. Protect it with the right insurance.


This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or

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