Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes

Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes

November, 2014 by Stacey Biemiller Maisch

When temperatures drop below freezing, it’s a good idea to take some precautions around your house to prevent damage from freezing.  Just as you go to the grocery store to stock up before a snow storm, you should also take some preventative measures to ensure that your pipes will not freeze, which could cause expensive repairs down the line.

When pipes freeze, any water inside them expands, which could cause cracks, leaks, or even a larger rupture.  A few simple precautions could keep your pipes intact, and your water running freely.

How To Prevent Your Pipes from Freezing

First and foremost, know where your pipes are in your home.  If you have any water pipes in or near exterior walls, insulate them.

Insulate all pipes near exterior walls. There are many different insulations options available for just about every budget.  Home improvement stores sell pipe sleeves, heat tape, and heat cables in various widths and lengths.  Even wrapping ¼ inch of newspaper around pipes can offer a minimal amount of protection against freezing.

Keep your home thermostat set to a higher temperature, especially at night.  While many people lower the thermostat at night to save on energy costs, if the temperature drops too low at night, your pipes could freeze.  Fixing a burst pipe would be much more expensive than a slightly higher heating bill.

Close and tightly lock all exterior doors and windows, especially in the garage and basement where many pipes are located.  Do what you can to prevent drafts and cold air coming into contact with your pipes.

Let your faucets drip.  If you leave your faucet open, allowing a small drip to flow, it will keep the water moving through your pipes.  Moving water freezes at a much slower rate than standing water, so even a drip can help prevent a solid frozen blockage.

How To Safely Thaw Frozen Pipes

If you turn on your faucet after a cold spell and nothing comes out, chances are you have a frozen pipe.  There are ways to safely thaw your pipes to get water flowing again, hopefully without any cracking or leaks.

Locate the frozen pipe. The first thing to do is locate which pipe is frozen and where.  Use your hands to feel along the length of your pipes where you can.  If you touch an extremely cold section of pipe, it’s likely that water has frozen in that spot.

Open the faucet of the frozen pipe. You know that no water is flowing from your faucet, but you should still leave the faucet open or in the on position before you begin to thaw.  As the ice in your pipes starts to melt, the water and steam will need a place to escape.  If your faucet is closed, it could back up and cause a burst pipe.  Plus, when your faucet is open, you will be able to see when water begins to flow freely again.

Direct heat toward the faucet end of your pipe first.  Once you know where the pipe is frozen, follow the pipe to the opening or faucet and begin thawing there first, slowly working your way down the pipe length toward the frozen section.  If you start directing heat toward the center of the frozen block, that water will have nowhere to flow, which could result in the pipe bursting in the center.

Choose a safe heat source: Hair Dryer, Heat Tape, Heat Cable, Hot Towels, etc. If you have special tools like heat tape or heat cable, you can wrap your pipes in sections for about five minutes each, beginning at the end, working your way toward the frozen section.  If you cannot obtain these tools, you can use a regular hair dryer, blowing the hot air on the pipes, again from one end toward the center.  Another option is to soak towels in hot water, ring them out, then wrap them around the pipes, starting at one end, working your way down, about five minutes per section.

When to Call a Professional Plumber

If your home has unprotected pipes near an exterior wall, consider calling a professional plumber to inspect them and insulate them properly.  If you are planning any renovations to your property, relocating pipes to a more central location can save you time, worry, and money later, as well.

If you know you have a frozen pipe, but cannot locate it, call a professional to come help.  Many pipes are behind walls or inaccessible without the proper tools.  A professional plumber may be able to help you with minimal cuts and repairs.