How determine if pipes froze and burst when furnace stopped working while we were away.

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unionmaid

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Before we left on vacation, my husband turned off the water in the house and put antifreeze in the toilets and drains. We didn't drain all the pipes in the house.

When the house was being checked by a friend, it was discovered that the furnace wasn't working. We don't know when it stopped working, only that the house was 34 degrees and below zero temperatures had been a regular occurrence.

When we get home, what steps should we take to determine whether pipes froze/burst without causing water damage? I'm especially concerned about the pipes behind the ceramic tiled shower walls or other pipes not visible to the eye.

Thanks in advance for any assistance you can provide.
 

jcy110

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Pipes can burst in your house when the temperature is 50 degrees inside. The outside walls radiate the cold and effect the pipes in the walls. Its always best to gravity drain the system if not home for long periods. Also cold air falling from the attic into spaces where pipes are in the middle of the house are another problem. These areas need to be blocked and insulated. The best bet is to have an internet connected thermostat hooked up so you can monitor the temperature, raise the heat when its below zero or call someone to fix the furnace before you have these problems...............when you get home you can hookup air from a compressor to your water line and do a pressure test or turn the water on just a little and see if the meter stops rotating or keeps moving a little bit.
 

Dana

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Pipes can often take freezing in sections without damaging the pipe, especially if the pipes were mostly drained, and there was a bit of space for the ice to expand into.

There's no point in worrying about it. If it froze to the point of damage you'll find the leaks, and have to fix them.

Only pipes that are in exterior walls or uninsulated basements/crawl-spaces or otherwise pass through the insulation boundary of the house are at high risk. The pipes to the shower are only at high risk if the shower mixer is located on an exterior wall, and the installer put the insulation between the pipe an the interior/tiled side of the wall cavity. If the plumbing is in an interior partition wall it's not at particularly high risk.

Insulating and air sealing basement or crawl space walls is protective. Even when it drops below freezing upstairs, heat emitted by the ground keeps the basement/crawl several degrees warmer. Leaving south facing windows unobstructed but putting shutters/curtains/drape over the east, west and north facing windows also keeps the upstairs spaces a bit warmer by lowering the heat loss yet retaining most of the solar gain.
 

unionmaid

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Pipes can burst in your house when the temperature is 50 degrees inside. The outside walls radiate the cold and effect the pipes in the walls. Its always best to gravity drain the system if not home for long periods. Also cold air falling from the attic into spaces where pipes are in the middle of the house are another problem. These areas need to be blocked and insulated. The best bet is to have an internet connected thermostat hooked up so you can monitor the temperature, raise the heat when its below zero or call someone to fix the furnace before you have these problems...............when you get home you can hookup air from a compressor to your water line and do a pressure test or turn the water on just a little and see if the meter stops rotating or keeps moving a little bit.


Thank you for your suggestions.

Next trip we will drain the entire water system.

We are also installing a heat pump and air handler as the existing furnace is original equipment and parts are unavailable.

We have a large air compressor so the pressure test sounds like something we could do and it wouldn't involve water leaking from any pipe breaks. Is this a DIY or should we call a professional plumber to do this test?

We use well water so no meter.

Again, thank you for taking the time to offer your expertise.
 

unionmaid

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Pipes can often take freezing in sections without damaging the pipe, especially if the pipes were mostly drained, and there was a bit of space for the ice to expand into.

There's no point in worrying about it. If it froze to the point of damage you'll find the leaks, and have to fix them.

Only pipes that are in exterior walls or uninsulated basements/crawl-spaces or otherwise pass through the insulation boundary of the house are at high risk. The pipes to the shower are only at high risk if the shower mixer is located on an exterior wall, and the installer put the insulation between the pipe an the interior/tiled side of the wall cavity. If the plumbing is in an interior partition wall it's not at particularly high risk.

Insulating and air sealing basement or crawl space walls is protective. Even when it drops below freezing upstairs, heat emitted by the ground keeps the basement/crawl several degrees warmer. Leaving south facing windows unobstructed but putting shutters/curtains/drape over the east, west and north facing windows also keeps the upstairs spaces a bit warmer by lowering the heat loss yet retaining most of the solar gain.


Thank you for your reply.

We will be following your suggestions next time we prep the house for a trip.

For now, I'm adopting your statement -- no point worrying about it, any damage is already done.

Again, thank you for your time and willingness to share your expertise.
 

jcy110

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Thank you for your reply.

We will be following your suggestions next time we prep the house for a trip.

For now, I'm adopting your statement -- no point worrying about it, any damage is already done.

Again, thank you for your time and willingness to share your expertise.
Use a regulator on the compressor, no need to set the pressure any higher than 25-40 psi......if it drops rapidly there is a leak. Raise the pressure to hear where it is..
 

Jadnashua

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FWIW, there is no such thing as cold...it's the absence of heat...you don't measure cold, you measure heat. Heat will always try to move to colder places and even the energy distribution out. No heat available, it gets 'colder' (i.e., less heat). The use of insulation helps slow the movement of heat, it does not 'stop' cold so you can keep more of it where you want it. If you think about it referencing your home when it is being cooled by a/c, the insulation is slowing the heat going into the house, not stopping the cold from escaping. These concepts can help when trying to figure out what's happening.

An air leak that blasts cold air on a pipe can remove all of its heat and freeze it quickly. The existing heat in the pipe transfers to the colder air, but 'cold' does not go anywhere, it just gets warmer! That's one reason why the exhaust from an air conditioner or refrigerator is hot...it's removing heat, not generating cold. Cold is a concept, not a 'thing'.
 
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I have an RV that I usually just drain the pipes and put antifreeze in the traps but sometimes don't get to it before a cold snap. The only components I've lost to freezing are the cheap plastic RV faucets because they tend to have complicated passages and don't leave any room for expansion.
 

unionmaid

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I have an RV that I usually just drain the pipes and put antifreeze in the traps but sometimes don't get to it before a cold snap. The only components I've lost to freezing are the cheap plastic RV faucets because they tend to have complicated passages and don't leave any room for expansion.

Gives me some hope. Thanks.
 

unionmaid

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FWIW, there is no such thing as cold...it's the absence of heat...you don't measure cold, you measure heat. Heat will always try to move to colder places and even the energy distribution out. No heat available, it gets 'colder' (i.e., less heat). The use of insulation helps slow the movement of heat, it does not 'stop' cold so you can keep more of it where you want it. If you think about it referencing your home when it is being cooled by a/c, the insulation is slowing the heat going into the house, not stopping the cold from escaping. These concepts can help when trying to figure out what's happening.

An air leak that blasts cold air on a pipe can remove all of its heat and freeze it quickly. The existing heat in the pipe transfers to the colder air, but 'cold' does not go anywhere, it just gets warmer! That's one reason why the exhaust from an air conditioner or refrigerator is hot...it's removing heat, not generating cold. Cold is a concept, not a 'thing'.

Thank you for this information. Love to learn things like this.
 

Atomic1

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I have seen a lot of freeze damage. If a pipe broke already, the residual pressure and/or gravity head would likely have sputtered water out and caused a stain. If it were me, i'd scrutinize the house for stains, scrutinize all of the angle stop connections to the pipes, then drain the system and test with air. Then i'd be nervous for a few months until I was confident no connections were compromised.

The pipes and fittings actually break from excessive water pressures that develop when an ice plug grows longitudinally and traps the water against something (either another ice plug or a fixture/valve). It isn't radial ice expansion force that breaks the pipe.

jadnashua, if you're gonna get technical. You measure temperature, not heat.
 

Jadnashua

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Temperature is a measure of how much heat is in the thing of interest. Heat is energy, cold is not. You can measure heat, you can't measure cold, it's just a relative lack of heat on a scale we call temperature.

A piece of copper pipe may or may not split when frozen, it can just swell. Often, it's more brittle things that actually split, like fittings, valves, etc. That does not mean that a copper pipe won't or can't split when frozen. Pex is pretty immune from damage by freezing, but that does not include fittings, or valves that may be attached to it, which are more rigid...it's just that as the water in them expands, it may get squeezed into the tubing, which can expand, unlike copper, which is lots stronger.
 
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