The Sound of Running Water: Finding Broken Pipes after a Freeze

Sometimes I get to throw down some lessons I learned growing up in New England, and after the five-day snowstorm and deep freeze we just had, now is one of those times. As anyone who’s lived through a January thaw following a hard freeze will tell you, the sound of running water is always bad news. Right now we’re all subject to broken pipes, whether from outside faucets, hoses, irrigation systems or water lines in crawl spaces. Chances are you’re already aware of frozen pipes that fed sinks and tubs inside your house, but what about the plumbing outdoors?

There are some obvious signs of broken pipes, like water running from the ceiling or out from under the front door, or shooting like a geyser from the unprotected backflow preventer for your sprinklers, but here are a few of the less obvious signs:

  • A soggy spot or pool of water in the yard when the ground around it has dried.
  • An outrageous water bill—generally a sign something’s running in the crawl space.
  • Any activity in your water meter when all the water is off.

Everybody should know where their water main is in their yard, and have a key to turn it off. The key is a long, steel rod with a T-shaped handle at one end and a U-shaped wrench at the other. They’re sold at all building supply and hardware stores.

An easy way to find instant peace of mind is to turn off all the faucets and then go look at your water meter. There’s a small, red triangle inside, and when the water’s off it’s motionless. If it’s moving, water is running somewhere. Even a tiny drip will cause it to move.

Once you’ve identified and repaired any leaks, now might be a good time to get the pipes insulated. We don’t get a big freeze very often, but when we do, you might as well be prepared.