While prevention is key, some homeowners will experience frozen pipes. If this happens, there are steps that can be taken to thaw the pipes.
First, locate the frozen pipe. It’s likely in an unheated space like a basement, crawl space, or attic. Open cabinet doors and windows to allow warmer air to reach the frozen section of the pipe.
Turn Off the Water
If you notice a frozen pipe, shut off your home’s water supply. It’s a good idea to have the family familiar with the main water valve in the house and know how to open and close it in an emergency.
This may prevent your household from being flooded if the frozen section of the pipe bursts.
Then, if you can locate the frozen section of the pipe, start thawing it slowly. Warming the area of a frozen pipe with a hair dryer, space heater (with caution and not near anything flammable), or a portable heat source such as a propane heater is a safe option. If using a portable heat source, be sure the space around it is well-ventilated. Do not use a torch or open flame to thaw the pipes because it could lead to a house fire, burn you, and/or damage the pipe.
Once the frozen section of the pipe thaws, you can turn on the faucets connected to it so that the water will flow through and melt any more ice. However, the water supply should still be shut off to avoid a water gusher in the event the frozen section of the pipe bursts.
A few other things you can do to help thaw your frozen pipes are:
Open the cupboard doors under sinks in kitchens and bathrooms, especially those with plumbing in exterior walls or attics, so that warmer air from inside your home can reach the exposed plumbing. Turn up the heat in your house to a minimum of 55 degrees.
You can also try to thaw your frozen pipes by running hot water in all faucets that are hooked up to them. If the frozen section of the pipe is near a toilet, you can flush it periodically to help drain some of the water and melt any ice.
Another way to thaw your pipes is to wrap the pipe section with rags drenched in hot water. You can also reposition the temperature settings on your furnace so that it’s blowing heat toward the pipes in those areas of the house where they are most likely to freeze.
Heat the Area
If your pipes have already frozen, it’s essential that you turn off the water supply and take steps to thaw them before they burst. You should also have a shop vac and cleanup supplies handy to lessen the damage caused by the frozen water. Start by opening up all the faucets in your home. If you find that you can’t get any water, check the water meter and the area around it. If you can touch the water meter and the surrounding pipe with your hand and it feels ice cold, you’ll know that the pipe is frozen.
The next step is to begin heating the area where your frozen pipe is located. This is important, as an exposed pipe will melt much more quickly than one buried in the wall. You can use a hair dryer, heat lamp, space heater (kept away from flammable materials), hot towels, or electric heating cables. The key is to apply gentle heat gradually to the area where the frozen pipe is so that you don’t damage the pipe or its surroundings.
Always avoid using blowtorches, propane or kerosene heaters, a charcoal stove, or any other open flame device to thaw a pipe, as these present a serious fire hazard and may cause the pipe to melt, burst, or explode. You should also never use boiling water to thaw a pipe as this poses a safety risk, as it will only melt the surface of the pipe and cause it to leak rather than thaw.
If the pipe is in a hard-to-reach location, such as in the attic or garage, try running a space heater and leaving cabinet doors open. You can also try turning up the thermostat a few degrees, although this will increase your energy bill. However, a few extra dollars to keep your home warm is better than having to pay for costly repairs after the pipes freeze and burst. If you have a lot of exposed pipes, consider covering them with foam pipe insulation to reduce the chances of them freezing.
Turn on the Faucets
If you suspect frozen pipes, open all the faucets served by those pipes – even at a trickle. “If you can get water running through the pipes, which will help keep them from thawing and then breaking out,” says John Galeotafiore, who oversees testing of home products and power gear for Consumer Reports. “Many people don’t know where their main shut-off valve is, but it’s usually at the water meter or the point where the line comes into your house.”
If there is no water flow at all, turn on another faucet in the home. This will relieve the pressure and help prevent a burst pipe, which can cause flooding, water leaks, mold, and structural damage.
He adds that you may also want to try opening the cabinets under sinks where exposed plumbing is located. Warm air will circulate better in those areas.
Once you find the frozen area, if it’s in an accessible location, use an electric heating pad or a hair dryer to warm the frozen section of the pipe. You can also try using a portable space heater (with care and as long as it’s not near anything flammable) or wrapping the frozen area in towels soaked in hot water. Keep the faucet open while applying heat, as this will allow water and steam to discharge, expediting the thawing process.
If you can’t find the frozen pipe, or it’s in a hard-to-reach location such as in the attic, crawl space exterior wall, or inside a cabinet, call a plumber for professional assistance. He or she will be able to locate the problem and offer advice on preventing it in the future.
When you’ve finished thawing frozen pipes, don’t forget to turn off the water supply again. That way, when the ice melts, only your house’s supply will flow. Also, be sure to replace any pipes that have suffered damage. That way, you’ll avoid the problem in the future, and your insurance company may cover some or all of the replacement costs. You should also contact your property insurance agent to see about adding flood coverage to your policy.
Call a Plumber
A frozen pipe may seem like a minor inconvenience, but it can be quite dangerous if it bursts. It can also damage your home and create flooding issues. Therefore, it’s best to call a plumber immediately if you think your pipes are frozen. Here are some tips to help you thaw the pipe and prevent it from freezing again in the future.
If you can find the frozen pipe, open the faucets connected to it so that water is flowing through them. This will relieve pressure and make the ice thaw more quickly. You should also try to heat the area around the frozen pipe. This can be done using a hair dryer, heating pad, or portable heater. However, you should always use caution when applying heat to any kind of pipe. If you’re using a portable heater, it’s important to keep it in a well-ventilated area and never leave the device unattended.
It’s also a good idea to have a mop, bucket, and any extra towels on hand to clean up any leaks from the thawed pipe. While it may be tempting to tear out a section of the wall or floor that’s covering the frozen pipe, this is not something you should do without professional help. If you do this, you could create a bigger problem that must be fixed sooner than later.
While you wait for a plumber to arrive, check your property insurance policy to see if it covers any damage caused by frozen pipes. If the policy does, you’ll want to document everything from the time you noticed a frozen pipe to every step you took in an attempt to thaw it. This will help you get your claim approved when it comes time to file a claim.
Frozen pipes can be very dangerous if left alone, but it’s possible to prevent them from bursting if you act promptly. By following these simple steps, you can keep your family safe and minimize the potential damage from a frozen pipe. Remember, paying a professional plumber is much easier than it is to fix the damage from an undetected pipe burst.