Fire and Rescue

CONTACT INFORMATION: Our office is open 8:00AM-4:30PM M-F
12099 Government Center Parkway
Fairfax, VA 22035
John S. Butler
Fire Chief

Frozen Water Pipes


Every year the fire department responds to hundreds of minor water pipe breaks which pose no real danger. This is in addition to the already large number of real emergencies such as house fires and accidents.

Water freezing in your cold and hot water pipes can cause serious problems. While this freezing takes place, the pipe begins to swell and may burst. In most cases, the actual break doesn't appear until the water begins to thaw.

The following tips may help prevent frozen pipes in your home:

  1. Shut off water to unheated areas of your home and to outdoor faucets. Don't forget to drain these pipes. Open cabinet doors and service access ways so heat can get into these otherwise hidden areas where pipes are located.
  2. Leaving a faucet on with a slow trickle may or may not keep the pipe from freezing; you can't count on this method. There are some specially designed, UL approved heat tapes that can be used in unheated areas, but again, you need to be careful. If these methods are used, be sure to follow the directions exactly; a slight variation could cause a fire.
  3. Locate the shut-off valves for both the hot and cold water, and the power shut-off for the hot water heater. In the event a pipe freezes, first shut off the water valve to that pipe (and the water heater if it's the hot water pipe). Then slowly thaw it out. Never use a torch! It thaws the water too quickly and weakens the pipe, almost guaranteeing the pipe will break. Room temperature heat and careful use of a hair dryer are good methods.
  4. If the pipe breaks, quickly shut off the water valve, if you haven't already done so. Then call a plumber. They have the know-how to correctly fix the break. At this time you may consider having the pipe or pipes rerouted through less vulnerable areas.
  5. Should you call the fire department? Only if the water gets in or near electrical outlets or panels, or if the water threatens a pilot light or power to a water heater or furnace.

A little bit of planning can make for a dryer, happier winter.

Public Affairs and Life Safety Education Section
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department
12099 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035
703-246-3801 or TTY 711

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