When is it Cold Enough to Freeze Pipes?

When should homeowners be alert to the danger of freezing pipes? It depends, says The Building Research Council at the University of Illinois.

In southern states and other areas where freezing weather is the exception rather than the rule (and where houses often do not provide adequate built-in protection), the temperature alert threshold is 20°F.

Field tests of residential water systems subjected to winter temperatures demonstrated that, for un-insulated pipes installed in an unconditioned attic, the onset of freezing occurred when the outside temperature fell to 20°F or below.

This finding was supported by a survey of 71 plumbers practicing in southern states, in which the consensus was that burst-pipe problems began to appear when temperatures fell into the teens. However, freezing incidents can occur when the temperature remains above 20° F.

Pipes exposed to cold air (especially flowing air, as on a windy day) because of cracks in an outside wall or lack of insulation are vulnerable to freezing at temperatures above the threshold. However, the 20°F temperature alert threshold should address the majority of potential burst-pipe incidents in southern states.

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