If you’ve ever lived in a poorly insulated house or apartment, you may have experienced the surprise of turning on your faucet only to find… nothing. Or you may have entered your bathroom in expectation of a luxurious warm shower only to be sorely disappointed. Frozen water pipes can certainly ruin your morning, or even your whole day. However, these are small inconveniences, easily remedied with a blow dryer aimed at the wall or a call to the landlord. If those frozen pipes should burst, there is a whole wave of damage in store for residents, both to property and health. Water has a unique quality– it actually expands as it freezes. If water is in a contained space, like a pipe, the walls of that container are going to feel the pressure. If the pipes in a house are particularly old, or have frozen often, there is a good chance that those pipes will burst, which will release all of the backed up water behind the frozen blockage. The technical term for this is called “escape of water.” This term differentiates the event from a natural flood, but the results are exactly the same. This often happens when the homeowner is away. According to the CDC, flooding from burst water pipes affects 250,000 homes a year which can cost an average of $50,000 in repairs and more. The flooding ruins carpeting, warps furniture, destroys expensive electronics and appliances, and claims family heirlooms. Worse, it weakens dry wall and can cause dangerous damage to floorboards, creating a risk of injury for anyone inspecting the home after the disaster. However, greater than the damages to home and possessions, are the health implications of a burst water pipe. Long after the furniture has been replaced and the floor repaired, there is the lingering menace of mold infestation. Mold thrives in a damp and warm environment, exactly like a flooded home, where it spreads into hard to reach, hard to find places, by releasing spores. Four of the most common indoor molds are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, and Aspergillius, and they are extremely difficult to remove once entrenched. They primarily afflict the human respiratory system. Mild reactions to mold may include wheezing, congestion, or skin irritation. However, prolonged exposure to mold can provoke a much more serious reaction–fever, shortness of breath, and serious lung infection. This is not just a risk for repair workers. After returning to their rebuilt homes, residents may still face long term exposure to mold spores and not even know it. Bursting water pipes are every bit as dangerous and every bit as costly as a natural disaster to residents. That’s something to consider the next time you find yourself with a dry faucet on a cold day. William Chiusano
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