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City of Idaho Falls News

Posted on: January 12, 2024

Prepare for the potential of frozen waterlines

Frozen Pipes_Stock

IDAHO FALLS -- Due to colder temperatures on the horizon in the coming days, the Idaho Falls Water Division reminds property owners and tenants to prepare for the potential of frozen waterlines. 

“Waterlines in Idaho Falls are generally buried between five to six feet deep, keeping them below the winter frost line, however as temperatures drop below freezing, frost penetrates the ground,” explains Water Superintendent, Dave Richards. “During extended periods of extreme cold, frost can penetrate more than seven feet deep, causing serious problems for underground utilities, especially waterlines,” adds Richards.

Smaller waterlines, such as those running from the street to properties, are more prone to freezing. Frozen waterlines usually occur where the waterlines are exposed to cold temperatures, such as at the entry to basements and crawlspaces. As water freezes, it expands and stops the water flow, which can cause waterlines to split or rupture. 

If the property is within Idaho Falls city limits and reduced or no water flow is detected, property owners should first call the Idaho Falls Water Division at (208) 612-8471 to inquire about the abnormal flow to ensure that service hasn’t been temporarily disrupted for some other reason. 

Tenants living in an apartment or rental property are encouraged to check with their landlord to verify that work isn’t being performed nearby that could impact water service. Those living in a single-family residence should double-check water valves inside the home to ensure they are completely open and haven't been tampered with, including valves near water heaters and water softeners. If all valves are open, the waterline is most likely frozen.

When trying to thaw the waterline, do not use a torch. Applying too much heat too fast can cause the ice inside the pipe to fracture and rupture, resulting in flooding. Additionally, do not use torches or other heating methods that could result in fires. 

The Idaho Falls Water Division recommends safely using a hairdryer or rags soaked in warm water to gradually warm the frozen pipe until water flow is restored at the faucet. 

Once water flow is restored, allow the faucet's cold water to run until the frozen section is thawed and full flow is restored before shutting it off.  The property owner or tenant should leave a trickle of cold water running to prevent the line from freezing again, especially if the frozen section is not able to be further protected. If unsure about how to proceed, contact a licensed plumber for assistance.

In the event of an emergency or even minor waterline repairs, it is extremely beneficial for everyone in the home to know the location of the master shut-off valve and how to operate the valve. The master shut-off valve is typically located where the waterline enters the home, most likely in a mechanical room, basement, or crawlspace. For those who have a finished basement and are unable to locate the valve, it may have been covered by a basement wall. The valve is typically either a gate valve or a ball valve. Check to make sure the valve operates freely and is easily accessible.

Tips to avoid freezing waterlines inside include:

  • Insulate indoor water lines in unheated areas to slow the freezing process.
  • Protect outdoor hoses by disconnecting them from the hose bibbs on the house's exterior. Drain and store hoses. For additional protection, cover hose bibbs with insulative covers.
  • Protect vacant property by leaving some heat on. If the heat is off, winterize all water lines and fixtures by draining them.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of the reach of children.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature during the day and at night. You may incur a higher heating bill by temporarily suspending lower nighttime temperatures, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home and set it to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

More tips on preventing frozen waterlines. 

For questions or more information, contact the Idaho Falls Water Division at (208) 612-8471.

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Media Note: For more information, please get in touch with City of Idaho Falls Public Information Officer Eric Grossarth at (208) 612-8562 or egrossarth@idahofalls.gov

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