Reports of Frozen or Broken Pipes in Homes Spike Due to Cold Temperatures


@angelakkmiller tweets us the photo above just after 3pm:

“.@PoPville FYI Water is gushing from our next door neighbor’s office! (1120 M Street NW)”

DC Water emails:

This week, temperatures in the District are expected to fall below zero for the first time since 1994. The cold has already caused hundreds of frozen or broken pipes inside local homes this winter. DC Water has fielded more than 4,000 calls from customers over the past 10 days, many for frozen or burst pipes, and other water utilities in the region are experiencing similarly high call volumes.

There are steps you can take to reduce the risk of pipes in your home freezing or breaking.

Pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed to the outside, such as outdoor hose outlets, water sprinkler lines and water pipes along an outside wall or in unheated interior areas such as cabinets, closets, attics, garages, basements and crawl spaces.

To Prevent Frozen Pipes:
– Eliminate sources of cold air near pipes by sealing drafty windows and doors, and insulating walls and attics.
– If pipes are exposed to cold air, wrap them with insulation or even newspaper will help.
– Keep water moving through pipes by turning on the faucet farthest from your main valve to a very small, steady trickle.
– Run warm water through your pipes if you begin to see a decrease in water pressure to loosen any ice that may be forming within your pipes.
– Keep pipes in cabinets and vanities warmer by opening the doors to those cabinets to let warm air in.

If Your Pipes Freeze:
If you find you have a frozen pipe, you should immediately take steps to thaw the pipe to keep it from bursting.

– First, locate and shut off the main water supply valve in case a pipe has broken.
– Next, open the faucet so that water will flow through the pipe once the area is melted. This will help melt more ice.
– Then, gently apply heat with a hairdryer around the pipe. Keep all sources of heat away from flammable materials and do not use any open flame devices. Also, do not use devices that will cause the melted ice to boil, as that can also cause pipes to break.
– Call a licensed plumber if you cannot locate the frozen section, if you are unable to reach it, or if you are unable to thaw it.
– Check for other frozen pipes in your home or business, especially those pipes that are located along an exterior wall or bring the water into the building at the foundation.
– Once you have thawed the frozen area, check the pipes for leaks to make sure the ice did not cause any cracks or damage to your pipes.

For Pipes Outside Your Home:

– The service line that runs from the meter outside your home to your indoor plumbing is considered private property and is the owner’s responsibility. If you believe you have a problem on the private-side service line, please contact a licensed and registered plumber.
– The water mains that carry water to service lines are highly pressurized and fast moving, and therefore extremely unlikely to ever freeze.

For emergency service inside your home, contact a licensed plumber. Call the DC Water 24-hour emergency line at (202) 612-3400 for water emergencies on public property, including suspected water main breaks, especially if you see water running from a building into public property.”

37 Comment

  • Rant: my pipes froze and burst where the main feed comes into the house. Luckily it’s above the shutoff valve and I was monitoring it to see what happens once it thawed. Plumbers are on their way and hopefully it’s a smallish job. Though I’m positive drywall has to be removed to get to the area of pipe affected.

  • “temperatures in the District are expected to fall below zero for the first time since 1994.”

    Is that really true? Surely not with wind-chill, right?

    • And assuming they’re talking about Fahrenheit (because it’s definitely been below zero Celcius regularly), isn’t “below 32” or “below freezing” really the relevant temperature of interest, not the arbitrary “zero?”

      That whole first sentence was unnecessary. The point is, it’s cold, and pipes can freeze – years and temps are superfluous.

      They also neglect to mention that keeping your tap open even just the slightest drip can help prevent the pipe from freezing.

    • It doesn’t usually get colder than low 20’s here in the winter. Below freezing is 32, below 0 is much different and rare in dc.

      • +1. D.C. Water probably could have done a better job of wording it, but the point they were trying to make was that it was going to be MUCH colder than usual.

      • I thought the first sentence was perfectly relevant.
        Your pipes are somewhat insulated by being indoors (even if they are poorly insulated in a drafty wall), so temperatures a good deal below 32F are the issue. I have had some pipe problems in the past and this year, and they all start with single digits or low teens and extreme winds.
        Temperatures are going unusually low (lowest since 1994) and may impact even reasonably well insulated pipes. Houses built or renovated in the last decade or two won’t have been tested by these temperatures.

  • Can apartment pipes freeze in a large building? Probably a silly question, but just wondering if we need to take precautions despite having other units all around us. Thanks for any advice!

    • Yes they can, but it most likely pipes in crawl spaces or maintenance areas that are at risk. Pipes within heated apts are unlikely to freeze.

    • It’s less likely, in a sense, but could still easily happen. If any pipes are near under-insulated exterior walls (or especially drafts), or if the pipes go through unheated/less heated areas, like an improperly heated crawlspace or section above a garage, it could happen.

      Though if you rent, and you follow any clauses in your lease regarding a minimum heat setting (I’ve had a lease tell me I can’t turn the heat down past 60 or so in the winter, and one came around with fliers for the residents) – as long as you aren’t negligent in that sense – the liability is on them.

    • Yes. And individual apartment with the heat off can get quite cold. Particularly if your water pipes are near the exterior wall, you need to be careful. I was in Pentagon City Mall on Monday and their pipes had frozen. Large building, heat was on. Better careful than have a frozen pipe.

    • With the cheap quality of many of DC’s newly built apartment buildings I would definitely expect pipes to freeze in large apartment buildings.

  • My pipes froze over the weekend and my landlord is the worst! After coming out there to assess the situation, she told me that I would have to wait until it warmed up and the pipes unfroze on their own. To make matters worse, she offered me a stipend for a hotel that would barely cover the costs of a Holiday Inn. At the price I pay for rent, I really expect to be put up in a much nicer hotel than a crappy Holiday Inn. At the very least, the owner could have offered to allow me to stay in their house while she’s doing nothing to make the pipes unfreeze faster.

    • Call dcra for a rental inspection or document the problem and go to a hotel you can afford, and reduce your next rent by the hotel rental cost. Perfectly legal. Being told to just wait in a apt with no running water is illegal.

    • If the amount the landlord is offering would cover the cost of a Holiday Inn… stay at the Holiday Inn.

      • Or just go there to take showers and refill your Brita pitcher. I’m currently without water and don’t feel a need to stay somewhere else.

    • Maybe she prorated the rent for a day? If it affords you a holiday inn what makes you think she should pay for a better hotel? If you don’t want to stay there its up to you to pay the difference for a higher hotel.

    • What would you like her to do?

      She sounds like such a horrible beast, so maybe she can breathe fire on the pipes (that are probably hidden in a wall).

    • Wait. Your landlord is giving you enough money to stay at a Holiday Inn while this happens and you are upset?????
      What do you expect your landlord to do, run you a new pipe while it thaws. Send you to the presidential suite at the Ritz? I think your landlord is extremely resonable. Unreasonable tenants are scary. Makes me never want to rent my place…

      • +1,000. There is absolutely NOTHING you can do once your pipes are frozen but wait for them to thaw. If the frozen section happens to be accessible, you can take a hairdryer or a space heater to it, but that isn’t always very affective. If your pipes are hidden in the walls (as many are), all you can do is wait and hope they don’t crack. Unreasonable tenants like this one is the reason I charge high rent and screen the crap out of every applicant.

      • Exactly! Also why professional property management is worth every penny (If you’re the owner/landlord).

    • Wow, I’m surprised she didn’t want you to stay in the house so you could throw the main water shutoff when the pipes thaw, if there is a break .

  • I had to shut off the water to my house while an unrelated problem gets fixed. Does this put me at greater risk for frozen pipes since there’s no water running through them for a few days?

    • It’s not the pipes that freezes, it’s the water in the pipe that does.. Just drain your pipes by running a faucet until all of the water is out of the pipe system. You should be ok.

      • I did that, but I’m wondering if there’s still water trapped in the system somewhere. Last year I drained the water from an exterior pipe after shutting off the supply for the winter, and it still froze and burst.

        • You are good. the procedure is to close the valve, drain all faucets. If you are worried about any water expanding, keep the faucets open. Without the pressure of a closed faucet the water will just run through the line.

        • Exterior pipes, if they are installed correctly/modernly, will have a “bleeder valve” back a few feet from the faucet which can drain the water from the pipe — especially if the exterior faucet is at a higher elevation than the rest of the pipe, as is common. It’s not strictly necessary, draining it by opening the exterior tap should be fine, but since the exterior pipe (and likely the air if you leave the exterior faucet open) can get cold enough to chill the pipe on the inside for a few feet, it’s best practice (and likely the modern code… at least it is in colder states) to have that interior bleeder valve. Just make sure the valve preceding the bleeder is off (or you’ll get blasted with water) and get a bucket to drain the pipe into.

        • I don’t know if it’s necessary for these levels of temperature, but if you’re really worried – sometimes in colder climates people use a styrofoam cover to insulate the exposed metal of the exterior faucet (and thus, help the cold to not run down the pipe and freeze). It just hooks on, see the link example:

          • My place (reno’d around 2006 by prior owners) didn’t include installation of any bleeder valves. Was never a problem until this year. But a pipe burst this week just inside from the exterior spigot. My main point: These levels of temperature do require precautions and at least monitoring. My house had never experienced them before, and I expect a lot of others with newer places will not have either. It is *plenty* cold to burst pipes, especially here where the requirements are less than more northern places.

  • The address for this photo is wrong. This looks like the CFTC’s building to me.

    • Definitely not CFTC. That building has black awnings and rounded corners on the arches.

      I think it may be 1120 20th st NW (which is between L and M). The causeway between the two buildings have square edges and overlooking offices like that.

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