How to Deal with and Prevent Frozen Water Pipes

An Ice covered frozen pipes beginning to thaw. Water droplets are forming on the tips of the icicles hanging from the pipe.

 

Frozen pipes can hide cracks and ruptures until they thaw and cause unexpected flooding. Image: CJ/Pixabay

During the winter months, a frozen water pipe can present a serious risk to your home. When a pipe freezes the ice can build a momentous amount of pressure, enough to cause the pipe to crack or even burst. These ruptured pipes can go unnoticed until they thaw leaving you unprepared for the impending flooding. Burst pipes can spill hundreds of gallons of water in an hour and cost you thousands in water damages.

How to Tell If You Have a Frozen Water Pipe

The first sign that you might have a frozen pipe is often when you realize that you don’t have running water. It can also be the case that you do still have running water, but you seem to have very little water pressure and no hot water. The first thing we recommend doing when you think you have a frozen pipe is trying to turn on other faucets. Determining which faucets are blocked should allow you to determine which pipe has frozen. You should also be aware of the possibility that more than one pipe may have frozen.

What to do When You Have a Frozen Water Pipe

  • After determining that you have a frozen pipe and which pipes have frozen shut off water to those pipes. If you aren’t able to close access to those pipes, then use the main shut off valve to stop all water to your home.
  • Leave on the affected faucets, when the pipes begin to thaw it will give built-up water an outlet.
  • Follow the pipes to locate the frozen section as well as any potential ruptures in the pipe. The frozen section may have frost or ice buildup or a visible bulge.

Check the most common places where pipes freeze

When searching for the frozen portion of the pipe check these common problem areas first:

  1. Exposed
    sections of pipe outdoors (adjoining walls or faucets).
  2. Unheated
    sections of the house such as crawlspaces.
  3. Under
    the sink where the problem was noticed.

 

Outdoor pipes are among the most at risk of freezing. Image by Scott Akerman, licensed under CC BY 2.0

What to Do If You Find a Frozen Pipe

When you find the frozen section of pipe you should immediately check for any cracks on the pipe. If you notice any ruptures in the pipeline, we advise you to contact a plumber at once.

When you find the frozen blockage and determine the pipe is not cracked take action to thaw it right away.

How to thaw an exposed pipe

If the frozen portion of the pipe is visible, then there are a few options to thaw it. Use your best judgment to determine the one that would work best in your situation.

Heat Cable
Electric heat cables can thaw frozen pipes as well as prevent freezing from occurring. They use a built-in thermostat to control when the cable heats the pipe. Heat cables are a smart investment if you have pipes that may be vulnerable to freezing.

Hair Dryers and Heat Guns
You can use a hairdryer or low power heat gun to warm the frozen section of a pipe by directly applying heat to the area. This can take some time but is often the simplest solution.

Heat Lamps
If you have access to one, then a heat lamp can be used in the same manner as a hairdryer.

Space Heaters
Using a space heater is a perfect solution for pipes that have frozen in an enclosed area like a cabinet or crawl space. Direct the airflow toward the pipe and it should quickly heat the area.

How to thaw a concealed pipe

Dealing with frozen sections of pipe concealed by walls or ceilings can be difficult.
If you can determine where the frozen section is located, you should remove the coverage to thaw it. Without removing the concealing surface there is not much which can be done.

If this is not possible then the best option may be to turn up the heat and wait. One other option that may help, however, is using an infrared heat lamp. Infrared lamps can be effective for thawing pipes through walls if you know the location of the frozen portion of the pipe.

Steps to Prevent Pipes from Freezing

The best method to combat frozen pipes is to prevent them. There are numerous measures that can be taken to safeguard against freezing pipes.

Remember that the pipes most at risk of freezing are those that: Run along uninsulted walls. Are inside unheated parts of the home. Are exposed to the out doors.

 

Image created for LeadingDIY.com
  • Insulate crawl spaces, basements, and anywhere else your pipes may run through.
  • Add insulation to pipes running through unheated areas. Foam insulation can be especially effective for keeping pipes warm.
  • Electric heat cables can be a smart investment for uninsulated areas where pipes are at a high risk of freezing.
  • Keep your home heated no lower than 55° F even when you are not going to be at home.

When the weather is especially cold taking these simple steps can also help keep your pipes warm:

  • Open cabinets under sinks to let warmer air reach the plumbing.
  • Letting cold water drip from a faucet can help keep the supplying pipe from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat at the same temperature at night as during the day.

Learn what the best pipe saw to buy is in our guide to metal cutting saws

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