During this wonderful time of the year, we need to be concerned about frozen pipes in our homes. More specifically, when frozen pipes do occur, what actions can be taken and what protection does a homeowner need to have.
As to immediate actions, in this bad weather leaving the faucet dripping water is helpful to prevent a freeze up. However, once a freeze up occurs then you need to call your plumber. Some plumbers have the ability to heat the copper pipe with an electrical charge similar to charging a battery on a car. A copper pipe has excellent conductive properties. The electrical charge can melt the freeze up. Remember the old scientific adage when water freezes it expands. That is how a broken pipe occurs. The ice freezes up and expands the water in the pipe. The expanding ice cracks the pipe. Therefore, the most important thing that can be done when a freeze up occurs is to shut off the main water supply to the house. Everyone should know where the shut off is for the main water supply. Remember the open position of that shut-off valve runs parallel to the pipe and the closed position is at a right angle to the pipe.
A second thing that can be done to prevent freezing of pipes is to literally put antifreeze in the heating system. This can be done by a plumber. Remember that the baseboard heat [forced hot water] is a closed loop system. That is, the main water supply to the house can be shut off but the antifreeze that is in the pipes serves as the heat for the house and antifreeze in the pipes will remain.
As to property damage insurance claim, please read your individual policy to see what is and what is not covered.
The modern home owner’s policy usually describes the coverage provided by freezing pipes under the exclusion clauses. That is, it will state ‘we do not insure, however, for loss:
2. cause by;
a. freezing of a plumbing, heating, air conditioning or automatic fire protective sprinkler system or of a household appliance, or by discharge leakage or over flow from within the system or appliance caused by freezing. This exclusion applies only while the dwelling is vacant, unoccupied or being constructed unless you have used reasonable care to:
1. Maintain heat in the building; or
2. Shut off the water supply and drain the system and appliance of water’.
Arguably, the fact that the coverage for a frozen pipe appears in the exclusion section of the policy is interesting. Rather than simply saying we cover frozen pipe damage except for in these conditions, the insurer says we don’t cover frozen pipe damage unless reasonable care was used. The reason the insurance companies have the policy drafted in that manner is it shifts the burden of proof from the insurance company to deny the claim as being some other cause to the insured for saying that it was caused by the frozen pipe. The most recent case involving frozen pipes in Massachusetts is a 2013 Massachusetts Appeals Court case titled Chow v. Merrimack Mutual Fire Insurance Company, 83 Mass. App. Ct. 622 (2013).