A pipe burst in a heated building: FREEZE Damage??

Have you ever wondered about the cause of a ruptured pipe inside a structure in the dead of winter, and been puzzled because the pipe burst occurred in a heated area? It may seem counter-intuitive, but the cause may have been due to frozen piping.

Conventional wisdom is that pipes rupture from freeze damage when ice forms in the pipe, and since water expands during freezing (unlike most other liquids) by approximately 9%, the rupture occurs at the ice plug. However, that is not always the case.

Freeze Damaged CPVC Piping.

Freeze Damaged CPVC Piping.

Fractured Fitting.

Fractured Fitting

For example, if a section of the water supply piping is not in the heated zone and is not sufficiently insulated, an ice plug may form in that section of piping. This may occur when the piping is in a garage or attic space. As the ice plug grows, the ice/water combination expands in volume. Since water is incompressible, the expansion will cause a dramatic increase in pressure in the piping. Tests have shown pressures in such situations can approach 2000 psi.

Freeze damage to coil.

Freeze damage to coil.

Most piping and fittings will not withstand such high pressures, and the result can be a rupture, which will occur at the weakest area of piping or fittings. That rupture may consequently occur far removed from the ice plug formation, even in heated areas of the structure. Therefore, freeze damage should not be ruled out for ruptured piping in a heated building without further investigation.

Founded in 1997, The Warren Group, forensic engineers and consultants provides technical investigations and analysis of personal injury and property claims as well as expert testimony for insurance adjusters and attorneys. Extremely well versed in the disciplines of mechanical, electrical, chemical, structural, accident reconstruction and fire and explosion investigation, our engineers and consultants are known for delivering the truth — origin, cause, responsibility and cost of an event or claim — with unmistakable clarity.

 

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