According to State Farm, a quarter million U.S. homes get flooded each winter because of damage from frozen water pipes. As water freezes, it expands with a force that can break pipes made out of most material including synthetics and natural metals.
Once the weather warms up and the water thaws, even a small crack of about 1/8 inch can spew up to 250 gallons of water a day! Besides water damage, the moisture can cause another headache: the growth of mold.
While single-home families need to take steps to prevent damage to their property, collateral damage is a back breaker in multi-family condo buildings.
Both the Condo Owners Association (COA) and building residents must assume responsibility. It is important for the COA to take a leadership role and help communicate problems and solutions. Luckily, simple and inexpensive precautions can help greatly reduce the risk of broken pipes during winter.
Preventing Frozen Pipes in Condominiums
Warmer climates may actually make associations more vulnerable because they have not prepared for a sudden freeze. Simple prevention guidelines (if followed) can be the difference between making it through the winter unscathed or paying out tens of thousands of dollars water damage repairs. Let's discuss what associations must do to fulfill their due diligence and prevent pipes from bursting.
Condo Association Management
COA management must take responsibility for shared plumbing that owners and tenants are not responsible for. The COA should have their building maintenance crew look for pipes that are either outside the building or in unheated areas like attics, crawl spaces, or even a common parking garage.
These are steps to take for common plumbing in a condo building:
- Use heat tape or other insulating products that have been approved by Underwriters Laboratory to insulate this exposed plumbing.
- Open cabinets near outside walls in areas like shared bathrooms and kitchens
- Obviously, thermostats should be kept above 60 degrees to keep the inside of the building from freezing. It is also likely that some of this warmth will seep into unheated crawlspaces and attics.
- Develop a quick line of communication with residents to warn them about potential freezing weather and steps to take to protect their own property.
Do Dripping Faucets Prevent Pipes From Freezing?
Opening faucets can help prevent broken pipes in a couple of different ways. First, running water will generate some heat. It will not entirely prevent water from freezing, however, it does help.
In addition, the open faucets relieve pressure, so even if some water does freeze, it won't be as likely to burst the pipe. It's important to drip both hot and cold water because even water from the hot water heater can freeze shortly after it leaves the heater.
If pipes have frozen, that doesn't automatically mean that they have burst. You should work to thaw the pipe as quickly as possible. Some good suggestions include wrapping hot towels around exposed pipes or simply using a hair dryer. Do not try to thaw the pipe with an open flame as you might increase the chance of damage. If the pipe has already broken, shut off water at the source before it thaws and call your plumber immediately!
Tenants and Condo Owners
Tenants and owners can take the same steps with their own units as the COA does with shared areas. They must keep their thermostats set above 60 degrees, even if they plan to leave on vacation. They should disconnect external hoses and exposed pipes outside their units. They can also open any cabinets near outside walls that contain plumbing.
It's also a good idea to remind residents to keep faucets dripping during a hard freeze. The COA should send reminders during the winter to let condo residents and owners know that any damage to their units and possessions will be their responsibility.
Work Together to Minimize the Risks of Frozen Pipes in Condos
Poor insulation, sudden and often unexpected drops in temperature and improper heating all increase the risk of frozen pipes.
In a condo complex, proper communication and a few simple steps can help property managers and COA's reduce risk. Products like UIL-approved heat tape or insulated jackets are far less expensive than the damages that even a tiny leak can cause.
Even though the COA and residents can work together to help greatly reduce the risk of frozen pipes, accidents will still happen. Winter is a good time for the COA, owners, and renters to review their policies to make sure they are covered just in case.