With the freezing temperatures across the country, the problem of frozen pipes rupturing is in the news. In Denver, the Jefferson County Court House is closed due to frozen pipes breaking, thawing then leaking. Water is unlike every other liquid in the world, because it expands when it freezes. When water is frozen, it shrinks when it first gets cold, and then expands to about 9% of it’s volume as a liquid. For example, 10 cups of water will turn into 11 cups of ice when it’s frozen. This is cool, because it allows people to walk and skate on frozen lakes while the fish swim below.

But freezing water can cause huge problems for home and business owners when it freezes in pipes. Frozen water in pipes can have an explosive result, shattering plastic and cast iron pipes when it expands. Watch the video for a demonstration on the power of frozen water.

To keep your pipes from freezing, keep your cabinet doors under sinks open and keep your thermostat up to above 65 degrees. A higher energy bill will still be less than the costs of fixing a ruptured pipe. If your pipes do freeze, use a hair dryer to warm up the pipes and defrost them before they rupture.

4 replies
  1. bumblebee
    bumblebee says:

    we are wanting to do the “bursting frozen pipes” experiment for a science project. where can we get some liquid nitrogen in a small amount or can a person get results from using dry ice?

    Reply
  2. Bruce Yeany
    Bruce Yeany says:

    Actually you can still do the experiment at home, it just will take a bit longer (like overnight) and safer inside your freezer. The experiment can be done with the elbow as shown by steve, or you can use a straight piece of pipe with two end caps and some pipe tape ( in either case I suggest using tape to make sure that you don’t have leaks). The heavier and thicker the pipe is the better and more impressive. Start at one end, and wrap with the threads with pipe tape with two turns covering the threads then twist on the cap. Add two turns of pipe tape to the other end and then submerge the pipe completely into very cold water about 4 degrees Celsius, or 40 degrees F. Add the other cap making sure there are no bubbles in the pipe. Now, place your sealed pipe in the freezer. The reason for starting with very cold water is that 4 degrees Celsius is the temperature water is the most dense. Any colder than that and the water molecules starting to group together as ice particles and the starts expanding. As the water molecules freeze, the ice crystals that form take up more space and expand with a lot of force. So as long as there were not leaks at the caps, the pipe will break. It has been estimated that this expansion due to water freezing can exert a force of about 75 tons per square inch, that’s 150,000 pounds on every square of surface inside the pipe. No wonder it breaks!

    Reply

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  1. […] Bursting Frozen Pipes – The Power Of Water | Steve Spangler …When water is frozen, it shrinks when it first gets cold, and then expands to about 9% of it’s volume as a liquid. we are wanting to do the “bursting frozen pipes” experiment for a science project. … Read Article […]

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