Frozen Pipes

Dear NH,
Are frozen drain pipes something to be concerned about? Our two upstairs bathtub drain pipes froze during a recent hard freeze. We had no problems with supply pipes, which I had thought were the usual "frozen pipe" culprits. I'm worried that there might be a problem with the way the pipes were installed. Luckily the pipes thawed without bursting two days later, about 12 hours apart from one another. (We have no access to these pipes and just had to wait for them to warm up.) Is this something that needs to be fixed?

CL from Charlotte, NC

Frozen pipes are always something to worry about and not only if they burst. The expansion of the water as it turns to ice is what causes damage to the pipes. Sometimes, though, the pipes will weaken but not burst, making them more prone to damage the next time they freeze.

Though this typically applies to supply pipes, damaged drain pipes can also leak if damaged by a freeze. And if the pipes are concealed the damage from leaking may be, too. Over time, a small drip from a drain pipe can cause big problems with rot and even mold!

You are not alone. Many homes have similar problems with badly placed and/or poorly insulated pipes. Fortunately, your problems are intermittent and generally limited to freak weather circumstances especially since you live in NC where the temperatures don't get to freezing as often as further north. One of my daughters lives in the High Point area so I am aware of your relatively "balmy" winters!

As an alternative to repair, many homeowners let a trickle of water run through questionable pipes during hard freezes. The movement keeps the water warmer and prevents significant icing. Again, this works for the drain as well as the supply pipes! You could, of course, open the walls and insulate the pipes, which would be a more long-term solution that will not require you to be as weather-alert. As always, it's your choice. Ain't America grand!

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