Help! A Frozen Pipe Burst in My Home – What Do I Do?

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: February 12, 2024

It was only a couple of years ago that winter weather hit us hard and put Chicagoland into a deep freeze.

That sub-zero temperature blast caused extensive residential and commercial damage. Frozen pipes ruptured and flooded homes and businesses all across the city.

You don’t want to be caught off guard by this kind of cold, wet disaster in your area.

Do you know what to do when frozen pipes burst and soak everything in the house?

The aftermath of a ruptured pipe is harder to deal with than cleanup after a water leak.

It catches most homeowners off guard, so arm yourself now with this action plan and be prepared for the worst.

Let’s start now.

Why Do Pipes Burst in the Winter?

Why Do Pipes Burst in the Winter

Residential plumbing pipes are made with durable materials that routinely handle water pressure between 45 and 80 psi.

When a hard freeze turns water inside a pipe into solid ice, pressure can exceed 25,000 psi, and the water’s volume increases by as much as 9%.

Frozen pipes burst when they thaw because they’re weakened by the intense pressure and volume of the blockage.

As the water thaws, it releases a tremendous force that bursts the pipe.

Water downstream from the blockage usually retreats to its external source through the supply line.

The bulk of the damage from the break typically occurs in the direction of water flow to interior faucets.

It’s not unusual for multiple pipes to rupture during a hard freeze. That’s why it’s good to know how to thaw frozen pipes before they rupture and soak the house.

How to Tell If Your Frozen Pipes Have Burst

You’re sure the pipes froze during the night. You hope they’ll thaw before the worst happens.

If they do burst, these are just a few of the signs that indicate a serious problem.

  • You hear a sudden, loud noise inside the walls.
  • Faucets left dripping overnight aren’t running.
  • Toilet tanks don’t refill after flushing..
  • If you do have water pressure, it’s very low.
  • Walls quickly develop damp streaks and dark areas.
  • Burst pipes overhead leak water through ceilings.
  • Pipes under sinks are covered in frost or condensation.
  • All fixtures are off, but the water meter still registers flow.
  • You notice unusual ponding or sinkholes in the yard.

What To Do When Frozen Pipes Burst: 5 Steps for Controlling the Damage

Our teams stay busy every winter with services that help Chicago homeowners recover from water pipes that burst in the house.

It makes a big difference if you can control the situation until help arrives.

These five steps help reduce property damage and hold down water damage restoration costs.

1. Turn Off the Water Supply

It’s critical to first turn off your water supply.

The first thing to do when frozen pipes burst is to cut off your home’s water supply. The main shut-off valve is usually located inside the house opposite the exterior pipe’s entrance.

If you need to turn off your property’s entire water system, look for an exterior cut-off valve near your meter.

You might also find it outside between the curb and sidewalk in a concrete box just below ground level.

Power Tip: Locate your home’s water cut-off valves now so you can access them in case of emergencies.

2. Check Your Electrical System

Sparking and outages are very dangerous signs after any kind of leaking or flooding situation in the house:

They indicate damage to your electrical system that must be addressed by licensed technicians.

If you suspect a problem, turn off the electricity with your home’s fuse box or breaker panel.

Don’t ever risk personal safety around water and electricity.

Even if you’re sure it’s okay to work in an area, unplug nearby appliances and fixtures. Proceed with a combination of caution and common sense.

3. Call a Burst Pipe Water Damage Cleanup Company like ServiceMaster by Zaba in Chicago

servicemaster restoration technicians

When pipes start freezing, water damage companies get very busy with service calls.

Contact your restoration contractor immediately, and explain the extent of damage from frozen pipes that burst in your house.

By calling a restoration company right away, you ensure a prompt response from certified teams who know how to expertly handle burst pipe water damage repair.

Even minor flooding can result in serious problems throughout your home, so line up professional help before you proceed with repairs.

If you’re in the Chicago area, contact us immediately so we can restore your home: 773-647-1985

4. Address Leakage and Document Damage

Use a simple clamp repair kit to stop water leakage and stabilize the burst pipe.

The repair process involves wrapping a rubber sleeve around the damaged pipe and securing it with metal clamps.

While this technique usually works, understand that it’s a temporary fix.

Power Tip: After clamping the ruptured pipe, open up all cold taps in the house to drain off any remaining water.

Once you have the burst pipe under control, take pictures of all affected areas before beginning any cleanup.

This gives you an accurate record of damages. The documentation helps you and your restoration contractor navigate insurance claims and paperwork.

5. Start Drying Out and Looking Up

Old newspapers serve as one of the best and cheapest materials for soaking up water. Lay down layers to wick up pools and ponds on the floor.

Fans and dehumidifiers help jump-start the drying process. If it’s not too cold and wet outside, open windows in affected rooms.

Keep an eye on the ceilings. Often, overhead frozen burst pipe leaks accumulate slowly creating a dangerous situation.

If you see any bulging in the ceiling, poke a hole in the center of the area, and drain excess water into a bucket.

Let your water damage contractor address structural ceiling repairs.

5 Myths About Frozen Pipes

Not every easy hack, fast tip or quick trick works on frozen pipes. Some can be dangerous. For example, thawing pipes with an open flame is extremely hazardous.

Here are five more common misconceptions about frozen pipes.

  1. Ice Bursts Pipes – Ice inside a pipe damages it, but the burst happens when the water thaws and slams through the pipe with tremendous pressure.
  2. Boiling Water Thaws – Pouring boiling water on a frozen pipe produces the drastic pressure change that causes pipes to burst, and it’s a serious scalding hazard.
  3. Pipe Material Matters – Regardless of their age, all types of pipes can freeze and burst regardless of material, including copper, PVC and galvanized steel.
  4. Bursts Are Loud – A bursting pipe makes noise, but it’s not always easy to hear when it happens inside an attic, down in the basement or while you’re watching a favorite show.
  5. It’s a Northern Problem – Northern homes experience colder winters, but they’re usually built to withstand freezing temperatures better than homes in Southern and Coastal states.

How to Keep Pipes from Freezing

You can’t stop winters from sending the mercury into single digits. There isn’t any way to control how long a freeze will last. You can’t prevent howling wind from making it feel even colder.

You can reduce the chances of frozen pipes with these simple tips.

  • Drain and wrap outside faucets, and disconnect and drain hoses.
  • Insulate exterior pipes with pipe tape or foam sleeves.
  • Repair leaking pipes and faucets inside and outside.
  • Let all cold and hot water faucets drip, especially overnight.
  • Leave cabinet doors open under sinks, and run fans to circulate warm air.
  • Don’t set the thermostat any lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Insulate pipes in the basement, attic, garage and exterior walls.
  • If you plan on being gone overnight, turn off your home’s main water supply.

Be sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast. Check on conditions frequently, especially later in the day.

Burst Pipe FAQ

1. Is a frozen pipe an emergency?

A frozen pipe can create multiple emergency situations when it ruptures, including: rapidly spreading structural damage in walls and flooring; potential ceiling collapse from overhead pipe bursts; electrical hazards from wiring and outlets exposed to water; structural damage to load-bearing walls; soaked sheetrock and insulation; saturated environments that cause mold growth.

2. Why do pipes burst when they freeze?

As water molecules freeze, they expand and create tremendous pressure inside a pipe. If the force continues building between frozen areas and faucets, the pipe eventually ruptures. Reduce the chance of burst pipes by letting faucets trickle during a hard freeze.

3. Will my frozen pipe burst?

Not every frozen pipe bursts and floods the house. That’s the good news.

However, the bad news is straightforward: It’s not unusual for frozen pipes to burst and cause extensive water damage.

Whether a pipe will freeze and burst depends on several factors, including:

  • Pipe Location – Pipes inside exterior walls and attics are more likely to freeze than other interior pipes.
  • Pipe MaterialPVC and CPVC pipes are less prone to freezing and bursting than copper pipes, although all pipes are susceptible to freezing.
  • Pipe Age – Older plumbing often develops problems that make it more likely to rupture after a hard freeze.
  • Proper Insulation – Matted, old or poor-quality insulation doesn’t protect pipes as well as quality insulating materials.
  • Freeze Duration – Extended cold can freeze multiple pipes, increasing the chances of serious water damage.

4. How long does it take for pipes to freeze and burst?

It depends on their location. Pipes exposed to extreme cold can freeze in less than two hours. When the temperature surrounding a pipe dips down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it can freeze and burst within three to six hours.

5. How can I safely unfreeze pipes?

Safely thaw a frozen pipe by running warm air from a hair dryer up and down its length. You can also wrap pipes with heat cables or warm them with heat lamps or space heaters. Never thaw pipes with an open flame.

6. Does Insurance Cover Burst Pipes Due to Freezing?

When we clean up water damage from burst pipes, we’re often asked, “Is a frozen pipe covered by insurance?” Most policies don’t cover the cost of repairing the pipe, but they do cover water damages resulting from the rupture.

Homeowners insurance covers the cost of water damage mitigation, remediation and restoration. However, there are a few situations that can complicate filing a claim after a frozen pipe bursts.

  • The homeowner failed to practice reasonable property maintenance.
  • Burst pipes occurred due to negligence, such as lack of insulation.
  • The plumbing system was old, corroded or previously damaged.

Check with your agent for details specific to your homeowner’s policy.

Keep in mind that it’s important to document your losses. Be ready to take pictures and video of water-damaged interiors and contents. This helps support your water damage claim. Our teams here at ServiceMaster by Zaba are always available to assist you in navigating the insurance claims process.

7. What is the cost to repair a frozen pipe that burst?

The average cost of repairing a frozen burst pipe ranges from $175 to $500. It depends on the location of the damaged pipe, number of breaks in the line and number of lines affected. Extensive repairs to a home plumbing system after a hard freeze can run higher.

Additionally, this figure does not include the costs associated with restoring the home due to the subsequent water damage after a pipe has burst.

Dealing with a Frozen Pipe That Burst in Your Chicago, IL Home? We Can Help!

servicemaster-dealing with a frozen pipe-chicago-team

When severe cold blasts your home into the deep freeze zone, don’t face flooding from frozen pipes by yourself.

We provide expert burst pipe water damage repair services across Chicago and the suburbs.

You can always count on ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba to answer your first call regardless of the weather.

Call us now for immediate help with water damage due to frozen pipes that have burst: 773-647-1985