Can Sewer Lines Freeze?
They sure can, and freezing sewer lines become a higher risk as the colder seasons approach! As a homeowner, you should be prepared to take the necessary steps in preparing for the harsh winter months. Gutters will be cleared and chimneys will be swept in anticipation of snow and icy conditions. Trees that pose a potential threat to fall are often trimmed or cut down. Snowblowers and shovels are kept at the ready, and heating systems are routinely serviced. You may think that you’re completely ready, but have you covered all your bases?
One part of the home that is often overlooked in preparation for cold weather is your home’s plumbing and sewer system. These are an essential feature to most properties, and as a homeowner, you should be aware and concerned with their condition and how they function. Though a frozen sewer line is not particularly common, the chances increase without proper maintenance before or during the colder months. Here are a few tips to protect your sewer line from freezing this winter.
Causes of Freezing Sewer Lines
When water freezes, it expands. Water that is flowing through or trapped in a pipe of your sewer line is capable of freezing if it reaches any temperature under 32 degrees Fahrenheit. When water freezes and expands in the pipe, there isn’t anywhere else for it to go. This can cause a blockage in your system and even damage due to cracks or breaks. This can temporarily close down your entire drain system until the ice melts or a professional can fix the damage. Either way, it will be a major inconvenience to you and your loved ones, especially in the dead of winter.
The most common causes of a frozen sewer line are:
- Faulty insulation around pipes
- A sudden drop in temperature, which is common in the winter months
- Lack of water flow in an exposed drain
- Thermostat or heating malfunction in the home
Sewer lines routed to unheated areas of the home are also at risk, even if your heating system is working perfectly. If a gutter that drains into a sewer pipe is blocked, the dripping runoff is cause for a potential freeze and blockage. It’s important to know where these pipes may be, as they can be affected by problematic locations.
Signs That Your Pipes May Be Frozen
Now that you know what can cause your sewer line to freeze, it’s important that you recognize any sign of an issue. Dealing with early symptoms are often fixed with a simple solution, and can help prevent a major malfunction in the future. If the temperature is below freezing and any of the following situations occur, there’s a good chance that your sewer line may be frozen.
Common signs that you have frozen pipes:
- Water is Present Where It Shouldn’t Be – Flooding or damp walls and ceilings are obvious signs of a problem. Unexplained puddles or sinkholes outside are also an indication of a sewer line break.
- Noises and Odor – There’s really no reason why your sewer system should be making any noise. Strange sounds, like gurgling coming from the pipes, can indicate a freeze or blockage. Any sort of foul smell coming from your drainage system is a sign of a backup or a broken pipe. Contact a professional to assess the situation immediately.
- Frost – If frost is present on your pipes, it’s a telltale sign that it’s frozen. This can be seen in pipes that are easily accessible, like under your sink or in a basement. Frost collecting on the exterior of the pipe is a clear sign that it’s frozen.
- No Water Comes Out – If you turn on your faucet and no water comes out, you may have a frozen pipe on your hands. If just a small trickle is released, pipes leading to your sewer line may be frozen or compromised.
Can You Prevent Your Sewer Line From Freezing?
Now that you know how important it is to make sure that your sewer line is maintained during the winter months, there are a few things you can do to prevent them from freezing.
How to prevent your sewer line from freezing:
- Know where the shut-off valve is in your home. In the event that pipes freeze and burst, you can use this to shut off the water flow.
- Make sure that your water heater is working properly. When the temperature outside drops, it’s a good idea to increase your water heaters temperature setting by a few degrees.
- Make sure that your pipes are properly insulated, especially ones that are exposed to outdoor areas. These are at the most risk for freezing.
- In extreme cold, it’s ok to run a dribble of water from your faucets. This will keep water moving, and prevent freezing.
- Make sure to seal off any vents or areas that allow the flow of outdoor air.
- When it snows, you should shovel any that collects around water drains.
Even though you know how to prevent freezing sewer lines this winter, accidents can always happen. All the protection methods above may not be enough in the event of a storm or extreme cold. Be sure to utilize a plumbing service in the event of a plumbing emergency.