Do Pipes Expand in the Heat, and Should I Worry About It?

It’s one of those science lessons you never really forget: Matter typically expands a little when it gets hot, and contracts a little when it gets cold. This natural reaction tends to affect metal more than most materials, which raises an important question – can pipes expand in your house? Can it be caused by the changing seasons? Take a look at current weather conditions on TOWN OF LITTLE ELM WEATHER CENTER.

Does piping expand in the heat?

Yes, it can! In fact, your whole house expands a little in the summer and contracts a little in the winter because of the temperature changes. Many times when you hear those creaks and groans that happen to every house, that’s what is happening. Pipes, both plastic and metal, will also expand in the heat but how much depends on the material. Skilled plumbers know to look at the piping specifications, which show how much space should be left in brackets and holes to make room for the expected expansion.

Does that mean pipes expand in hot water, too?

They can and often do. Every time you use hot water on a faucet, that water moves from your hot water tank – or similar setup – into your colder pipes. This causes most pipes to rapidly expand whenever hot water is used. If you hear rattles, bangs or other odd plumbing noises every time you turn on the hot water (and only hot water), it’s probably this rapid expansion that is causing it.

Is this dangerous? Should I worry if my pipes make noise?

You are probably all right, but it pays to make sure. Most pipes expand and contract without creating any damage or lasting problems. However, there are two issues that deserve professional attention: Incorrectly installed pipes without enough room, and rattling pipes that are damaging themselves. You can inspect pipes yourself for any obvious signs of damage, but when it doubt you may want to have a plumber take a look, too.

I still don’t like the noise – can I do anything about it?

If your pipes seem fine but the noise is getting on your nerves, call in a professional to take a look.
During the last cold snap, the Town responded to calls of frozen pipes and leaks once things began to thaw. As we shift into another cold spell please take precaution. Below are some beneficial procedures to help limit frozen pipes.

How to Protect Pipes from Freezing

Plumbing is especially susceptible to cold weather and freezing. Burst pipes from freezing can cause some of the most expensive repairs in the home. So let's go over some of the basics to make you have them covered.
  • Insulate exposed piping: If you have any exposed water or drain piping in uninsulated spaces, such as in a crawlspace, attic, outside walls, etc., make sure to insulate them with foam insulation at a minimum. Ideally, you should wrap them with electrical heating tape first, then insulate them.
  • Open Sink Cabinet Doors: Opening cabinet doors under your sink helps air flow and keeps pipes warm.
  • Dripping you faucet: Letting a cold water faucet drip, helps to keep water flowing and lessens the chance of pipes freezing.
  • Exterior faucets: Known as hose bibbs, the exterior faucet needs to have its water supply turned off inside the house, and you also need to drain water from it by opening up the exterior faucet (if possible). You may also want to consider an insulated cover for the hose bibb. And remember to disconnect your garden hoses from the outside faucets, and drain them if you store them outside.
  • Turn off irrigation system: Turn off your irrigation system so it doesn’t come on, no need to water. Irrigation systems operating in the winter can cause frozen pipes and irrigation system parts, also can cause icy roads.
Follow the link below to see current weather conditions here at the TOWN OF LITTLE ELM WEATHER CENTER.

Click here if you need information regarding Streets & Road Conditions.
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WINTER – What’s the difference?

Winter Storm Watch - Winter storm conditions are possible within the next 36 to 48 hours. People in a watch area should review their winter storm plans and stay informed about weather conditions.
Winter Storm Warning - Life-threatening, severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours. People in a warning area should take precautions immediately.

  • What Kind of Water Pipes Freeze and When?
Water pipes have the potential to freeze and burst when the outside temperature reaches 20 °F or below. Pipes that are most vulnerable to freeze are usually exposed to severe cold, such as:

  • outdoor hose bibs,
  • swimming pool supply lines,
  • water sprinkler lines,
  • water pipes in basements,
  • water pipes in crawl spaces,
  • water pipes in attics,
  • water pipes in garages, and
  • water pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation (i.e. Tankless Water Heaters or Water Softener Filters)