Illinois winter storm may cause frozen pipes. How to thaw them, what to do if they burst

Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety

Residents of southwestern Illinois and the St. Louis area can expect anywhere from 4 to 9 inches of snow accumulation Tuesday night into Wednesday, as the region is under a winter storm warning.

Low temperatures are expected to hover around 32 degrees Fahrenheit Tuesday and 27 degrees Wednesday, and frozen pipes are possible.

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Illinois has the third-highest cost of claims related to frozen pipe losses of any state, insurer State Farm reports, with $10.8 million in 2022 claims. Even a one-eighth-inch crack in a pipe can spray more than 250 gallons of water per day, according to the insurance company.

Here are some tips on preventing your pipes from freezing, along with information about thawing frozen pipes and managing pipe bursts.

Prevent pipes from freezing

Letting your faucet drip overnight can help protect your pipes from freezing, and it can also be helpful to open cabinet doors to allow heat to reach uninsulated pipes, especially near exterior walls.

State Farm also recommends people seal any leaks that allow cold air in. Set your thermostat to at least 55 degrees, even if you will be out of town during a winter storm. Allowing your home to stay at an adequate temperature can help protect your pipes.

You may also consider shutting off and draining your water system if you will be out of town, but this may deactivate your fire protection sprinkler system if you have one.

How to thaw frozen pipes

If only a trickle of water comes out when you turn on your faucet in winter weather conditions, you may have frozen pipes.

How to prepare for winter storm and heavy snow in southwestern Illinois, St. Louis

Pipes may be more susceptible to freezing if they’re located near exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation, according to the American Red Cross.

Here’s what the organization advises residents do to thaw their frozen pipes:

  1. Keep the faucet open. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice.

  2. Apply heat to the frozen section of the pipe by wrapping with towels soaked in hot water or using an electric heating pad, hair dryer or a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials). Don’t use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove or any open-flame device.

  3. Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you can’t locate the frozen area, if it’s not accessible or if you can’t thaw the pipe, consider calling a licensed plumber.

  4. Check the other faucets in your home. If one has frozen, others may freeze too.

What to do if your pipes burst

There are several steps you can take to limit damage to your home once your pipes have burst, according to Chicago-area company Rescue Plumbing. First, it is important to shut off the water access to your home.

Once you’ve shut off the water, you can release water pressure by draining. You can do this by flushing toilets and leaving faucets open.

If the pipe has burst near an electrical panel, you may need to shut off your electricity. Avoid operating electric appliances near standing water.

After you’ve removed belongings to mitigate water damage, you can determine whether contacting a licensed plumber or electrician may be necessary.

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