The normally temperate state of Texas experienced some of the coldest weather ever earlier this week when snow blanketed most of the central part of the country, leading to widespread power outages and water shortages. Dallas–Fort Worth even saw temperatures dip to a teeth-chattering minus 2 degrees on Tuesday morning—a negative number not seen in North Texas for 72 years.
Just how cold did it get? Outside, the Texas deep freeze caused swimming pools and hot tubs to ice over. And those frigid conditions left uninsulated power grids struggling to keep up. Millions of Texans then suffered power outages or rolling blackouts as cold temperatures lingered for days. To add to the suffering, hundreds of thousands of North Texas homes with electric heat lost the ability to keep their homes warm.
And so what Texans had to endure went from bad to worse: To wit, icicles formed inside people’s Lone Star homes, with frozen water even hanging from ceiling fans.
How are these icy spikes that usually form on an outside eave ending up in Texan living rooms and bathrooms? And more importantly, how can you stop it from ever happening to you? We explain it all below.
What causes indoor icicles?
This is how cold it is at my Apartment.— ☩ (@ThomasBlackGG) February 16, 2021
As a Texan, yes, I’m certainly not built for this. I don’t even care. pic.twitter.com/FMt8imglJp
Icicles form inside homes when water has somehow seeped inside and the indoor temperature has dropped to match the frigid conditions outside.
“Many times water comes through the roof, which can be caused by a frozen water pipe that has burst,” says Diana Rodriguez-Zaba, president of ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, a certified water damage restoration company in Chicago. “Or ice dam water could have melted and backed up into the home.”
(An ice dam is a frozen ridge that can form at a roof’s edge and stop melting snow from draining. Water can then back up behind the dam and seep inside.)
When you combine any leaking water with a poorly insulated home—that has no power for heat—the dripping water subsequently freezes into an icicle if the temperature is cold enough. (To put just how cold it is in some people’s homes in perspective, icicles usually form on days when the ambient temperature is below zero.)
Why is Texas particularly vulnerable to indoor ice?
Many Texas homes are built on slabs, and so water heaters, furnaces, and waterlines are in the attic instead of a basement. If homes can’t provide sufficient heating due to power outages, that water can become extremely dangerous.
“If the house is freezing, the waterlines can burst and rain down through the ceiling,” explains Deb Tomaro, a real estate professional serving South Central Indiana whose extended family lives in Texas.
According to the Dallas Water Utility, it responded to more than 1,000 busted, frozen pipes as of 10 a.m. Wednesday. And that dripping water then leaks through electric openings, ceiling, or walls, causing major damage—and icicles.
“My parents just spoke to a neighbor who had two huge ceiling collapses,” says Tomaro.
What to do if you have icicles
“People typically break the icicles because they are dangerous when they melt and fall,” says Margine Biswas, a Texas-registered architect and owner of the Dallas architecture firm Archiphy.
The safest way to knock down icicles is with a large pole. Just exercise extreme caution when doing so. Stand where the icicles can’t hit and injure you. If you are uncertain what to do, call a professional water damage professional.
Also, have a specialist come pinpoint the source of moisture in your home that’s causing the icicles to form. If you have a frozen, burst pipe, it will need to be repaired. You will then have to address the water damage and reconstruction work necessary to restore your home.
How to prevent indoor ice
If you can, keep faucets at a trickle to allow water to move and prevent pipes from freezing. If you can’t do that, the best advice to homeowners with frozen pipes is to turn the water completely off. Use this guide to figure out where the valve is in your home.
“My 78-year-old parents are trying to figure out how to turn their water off at the main for the night because they’ve had power during the day but no power at night,” says Tomaro.
And if you notice ice dams forming on your home’s roof, first remove them carefully right away either by yourself or with a professional. Waiting for ice dams to simply melt on their own will create all sorts of damage. And definitely contact a pro to see what’s causing the ice dams to form in the first place.
“If you notice any signs of water damage in your home, especially on the roofs and ceilings, get a water damage restoration specialist to pinpoint the source of the problem and stop the damage from spreading,” says Rodriguez-Zaba.
How to safely turn your water back on
When turning your water back on, listen for leaks at the water main valve and water tank. Also listen for leaks in any piping. A leak will generally sound like a hiss or whistle in the pipe itself, in addition to any dripping sound at the leak point. If anything sounds off, immediately shut the water back off and call your plumber ASAP.
Texans may then want to look into getting their plumber to better insulate their pipes to prevent any indoor ice from forming again.