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Winter may feel like it’s arriving early this year. Some of us more cold-natured folks have already found occasions for extra layers of clothing. In anticipation of an unfriendly winter, homeowners can find it useful to understand the problems that cold weather can cause for the home’s plumbing. In regions that regularly experience below freezing temperatures, pipes will often burst, and here’s how:

Freeze and Expand

We should all remember high school science. Like the day the teacher taught about what happens to water molecules at cold temperatures. They contract, and conversely they expand at warm temperatures. Well, water reaches maximum density at just about the freezing point and then begins expanding.  In a tight space like a drainpipe, this expansion puts strain on the inner walls. Regardless of the pipe material—iron, lead, or plastic—a cumulative effect can cause any pipe to eventually burst.

Leaks and Ruptures

In extremely cold temperatures, water will of course freeze. But if the pipe is deep enough underground, the pipes can be protected from the extreme cold. If there is a steady drip of running water, the pipes will be prevented from freezing. But a constant cold water flowing in them throughout the winter can also strain them causing cracks or leaks. The water doesn’t have to actually freeze, but the pressure can eventually cause the crack or rupture.


Lead pipes are prone to rusting through the constant contact with the oxygen in water. Pipes that are rusted are certainly weaker and thereby capable of bursting. Many homeowners are fortunate enough to live in regions that rarely deal with freezing temperatures. But everyone else will occasionally run into a nasty winter. Making sure your pipes are insulated will go a long way in protecting them. Again, leaving a trickle of water flowing through home faucets through cold winters is definitely a preventative measure.

Being vigilant and seeking professional assistance when necessary can mean the difference between fixing a leak (couple hundred dollars) and repairing a burst pipe (thousands).