For many college students and first-time renters, the possibility of frozen pipes is the last thing on their minds when they return home for the holidays. Yet, those who attempt to save money by turning off the heat while they’re away may be in for an unwelcome surprise. Frozen pipes in apartment complexes are an all-too-common occurrence that can usually be prevented with a few simple steps. Here’s what to do if your pipes freeze in your apartment.
Can Pipes Freeze in an Apartment?
The short answer is yes; the pipes in your apartment can freeze. When this happens, it’s usually due to a combination of three factors: a rapid drop in outside temperature, poor insulation, and cold air inside the apartment when the thermostat is set too low. More often than not, the pipes that end up freezing are either connected to piping that runs outside the building or placed in poorly insulated exterior walls.
Unfortunately, as a renter, you have little control over your building’s insulation or pipe infrastructure — and even less control over unexpected cold snaps. Whereas homeowners can immediately shut off their water supply if they suspect any pipes have frozen, most renters simply don’t have access to their water main. On top of that, pipes that freeze inside walls are practically unreachable — unless you’re thinking of “remodeling” with a saw and sledgehammer.
The good news is that your landlord has a legal obligation to maintain running water in your apartment. Hopefully, that means they will be proactive about preventative maintenance, be quick to shut off the water if pipes do freeze, and inform tenants about how to keep their pipes from freezing in the future. Responsible property managers typically include information on winter pipe care in the lease and notify tenants about freeze prevention methods ahead of winter weather.
What to Do If Your Pipes Freeze
Prevention is key — burst pipes can flood apartments and lead to thousands of dollars in damages that the renter may be liable for. Sometimes, though, frozen pipes just happen. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a headache you’ll want to take care of quickly.
So what do you do if a pipe freezes in your apartment? Well, the best solution is to use these five tips to prevent pipes from freezing in the first place. But let’s say the deed is already done: it got really cold last night, and when you turned on your faucet this morning, nothing came out. Uh-oh. Here’s what you can do:
First, try to locate the frozen pipe if possible. If some faucets have running water while others do not, this may help narrow your search. Visually inspect any piping you can see for signs of condensation or frost. The case very well may be that the blocked pipe is frozen somewhere out of reach.
Let’s say you did find a pipe that’s frozen. How can you remedy the situation? Attempt to thaw out the pipe with gentle heat. Some DIY methods include pointing a space heater at the pipe (from a safe distance of three feet), going over it with a blow dryer, or soaking a towel in warm water and wrapping it around the pipeline. While you’re doing this, turn the corresponding faucet on low to drain water and dislodge any remaining ice.
(Note: Avoid pouring hot water down the drain to unclog a frozen pipe! The sudden heat on a frozen surface is likely to crack and burst the pipe).
If you can’t find any frozen pipes, your best course of action is to start raising the temperature in your apartment. Bump up the thermostat higher than normal and open any cabinets that house water pipes, such as in the bathroom and under the kitchen sink. The goal is to get warmer air circulating around your pipes. Also, set blocked faucets to drip to both drain water and give you an indication that the pipes are thawing out.
In the meantime, inform the landlord that your pipes may be frozen so they can address the situation. Since an apartment without running water is considered uninhabitable, property management is responsible for emergency maintenance or repairs.
If you have frozen pipes, apartment complexes will likely already be aware of the situation and notify residents of any water shutoffs or necessary maintenance. Remember, however, that part of a responsible renter’s job is to take steps to prevent pipes from freezing in the first place — saving both yourself and your property manager from the costly headache of a burst pipe.
Need to find an apartment community that has a better handle on preventative maintenance? Explore ApartmentSearch and find the right place to call home!