Frozen water pipes are a common problem in cold climates, especially during the winter months. When water freezes inside a pipe, it expands and exerts pressure on the pipe walls, which can cause them to crack or burst.
This can lead to water damage, flooding, and costly repairs. Therefore, it is important to know how to thaw frozen water pipes safely and effectively before they cause serious problems.
- What causes water pipes to freeze?
- How to Identify Frozen Pipes
- What to Do When Pipes Freeze
- How to Thaw Exposed Pipes
- How to Thaw Enclosed Pipes
- What to Avoid When Thawing Pipes
- What to Do If the Pipe Bursts
In this article, we will explain what causes water pipes to freeze, how to identify and prevent frozen pipes, how to thaw exposed and enclosed pipes, what to avoid when thawing pipes, and what to do if the pipe bursts.
What causes water pipes to freeze?
Water pipes can freeze when the temperature drops below 32°F (0°C) and the water inside the pipes is not moving. This can happen when the pipes are exposed to cold air, such as in an unheated basement, crawl space, attic, garage, or outside wall. It can also happen when the water supply is turned off for a long period of time, such as during a vacation or a power outage.
How to Identify Frozen Pipes
A frozen pipe is a blockage in a faucet, causing no water to flow or only a trickle. It may also show frost or ice on the pipe or a slight crack. To locate the frozen section, follow the pipe from the faucet to the cold areas, using your hand or a thermometer to measure the temperature. The frozen section will be colder than the rest.
What to Do When Pipes Freeze
If you suspect that a pipe is frozen, you need to act quickly to thaw it before it bursts. Here are the steps to follow when pipes freeze:
Turn off the water supply.
The first thing you need to do is turn off the water supply to the frozen pipe. This will prevent more water from entering the pipe and adding pressure to the ice. You can use a local shutoff valve to turn off the water to the faucet or fixture that is affected by the frozen pipe, or you can use the main shutoff valve to turn off the water to the whole house.
Open the faucets.
The next thing you need to do is open the faucets that are connected to the frozen pipe. This will help to relieve the pressure in the pipe and allow the water to escape once the ice starts to melt. You should open both the hot and cold handles of the faucet and leave them open until the water flow returns to normal.
Locate the frozen section.
The last thing you need to do before you start thawing the pipe is to locate the frozen section of the pipe. As mentioned earlier, you can use your hand, a thermometer, or visual clues to find the frozen section. You should always start the thawing process near the faucet and work your way toward the frozen section. This will prevent the ice from getting stuck behind the blockage and create more pressure in the pipe.
How to Thaw Exposed Pipes
If the frozen pipe is located in an area that you can easily access, such as under a sink, in a basement, or along an exterior wall, you have several options for thawing the pipe. You should continue to apply heat to the pipe until the water flow returns to full strength. Here are some methods for thawing exposed pipes:
Use a hair dryer.
One of the easiest and safest ways to thaw a pipe is by using a hair dryer. Simply plug in the hair dryer and point the heat at the pipe, starting from the section closest to the faucet and moving toward the frozen section. You can use your hand to feel the pipe and check if it is thawing. Be careful not to touch the pipe with the hair dryer, and avoid coming into contact with water or electricity when using the device.
Use a heat lamp or space heater.
Another method to thaw a pipe is to use a heat lamp or a space heater. Position the device so that the heat is able to reach the frozen pipe, but keep it at least three feet away from any flammable materials, such as curtains, carpets, or furniture. You can also use a fan to circulate the warm air around the pipe. Make sure to follow the safety instructions and precautions on the device you are using, and keep the device away from water.
Use electric heat tape.
Another method to thaw a pipe is to use electric heat tape. This is a special tape that has heating elements inside it and can be wrapped around the pipe to provide constant heat. You can buy electric heat tape at most hardware stores and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to apply it to the pipe. Make sure to plug the heat tape into a grounded outlet and keep a close eye on the process. Do not overlap the heat tape, as this can cause overheating and fire.
Use hot towels or rags.
Another method to thaw a pipe is to use hot towels or rags. You can soak the towels or rags in hot water and then wrap them around the pipe. You can also use a bucket or a pot to pour hot water over the pipe. Be careful not to burn yourself with the hot water, and avoid spilling water on any electrical devices or outlets. You may need to repeat this process several times until the pipe is thawed.
How to Thaw Enclosed Pipes
If the frozen pipe is located behind a wall or a ceiling, you have fewer options for thawing the pipe. You may need to call a professional plumber to access and thaw the pipe, or you can try some of these methods:
Increase the room temperature.
One method to thaw an enclosed pipe is to increase the room temperature where the pipe is located. You can use a thermostat, a space heater, or a heat lamp to raise the temperature in the room and hope that the heat will reach the pipe behind the wall or ceiling. You can also cut out a small hole in the wall or ceiling to allow warm air to enter the space where the pipe is located.
Cut Out a Section of the Wall
Another method to thaw an enclosed pipe is to cut out a section of the wall or ceiling where the pipe is located. This will allow you to access the pipe and apply heat to it directly. You can use a drywall saw a utility knife, or a drill to cut out a small section of the wall or ceiling, and then use any of the methods for thawing exposed pipes to thaw the pipe. You will need to repair the wall or ceiling after the pipe is thawed.
What to Avoid When Thawing Pipes
There are some things that you should avoid when thawing pipes, as they can cause more damage or danger to the pipes, yourself, or your property. Here are some of the things that you should avoid when thawing pipes:
Do not use open flames.
One of the most dangerous things that you can do when thawing a pipe is to use an open flame, such as a blowtorch, a propane heater, a kerosene lamp, or a lighter. This can cause the pipe to overheat and burst or ignite the flammable materials around the pipe, such as insulation, wood, or drywall. This can result in a fire, an explosion, or serious injuries. Never use an open flame to thaw a pipe.
Do not leave the pipes unattended.
Another thing that you should avoid when thawing a pipe is leaving the pipe unattended while applying heat to it. You should always monitor the process and check the water flow regularly. If you leave the pipe unattended, you may not notice if the pipe bursts, leaks, or overheats. This can lead to water damage, flooding, or fire. Always stay with the pipe until it is fully thawed.
Do not apply excessive force.
Another thing that you should avoid when thawing a pipe is applying excessive force to the pipe, such as hitting it with a hammer, wrench, or pliers. This can damage the pipe and cause it to crack or break. You should also avoid twisting or bending the pipe, as this can weaken the pipe and make it more susceptible to bursting. You should only apply gentle pressure to the pipe and let the heat do the work.
What to Do If the Pipe Bursts
If the pipe bursts despite your efforts to thaw it, you need to act quickly to minimize the damage and repair the pipe. Here are the steps to follow if the pipe bursts:
Shut off the main water valve.
The first thing you need to do if the pipe bursts is to shut off the main water valve to the house. This will stop the water from flowing out of the pipe and flooding the area. You can usually find the main water valve near the water meter, in the basement, or outside the house. You may need a wrench or pliers to turn the valve.
Call a professional plumber.
The next thing you need to do if the pipe bursts is to call a professional plumber to fix the pipe. You should not attempt to repair the pipe yourself, as you may not have the proper tools, skills, or experience to do so. A professional plumber will be able to assess the damage, replace the pipe, and restore the water supply. You should also inform your insurance company about the incident, as they may cover some of the costs of the repair.
Repair the damage.
The last thing you need to do if the pipe bursts is to repair the damage caused by the water. You may need to dry out the area, remove the wet materials, disinfect the surfaces, and restore the wall or ceiling. You may also need to hire a water damage restoration company to help you with the process. You should act fast to prevent mold, mildew, or rot from developing in the affected area.
Frozen water pipes can cause significant damage and inconvenience. To prevent this, insulate pipes, seal gaps, and maintain dripping faucets. To thaw frozen pipes, turn off the water supply, open faucets, locate the frozen section, and apply heat. Avoid open flames, leave pipes unattended, or apply excessive force. If a burst pipe occurs, shut off the main water valve, call a professional plumber, and repair the damage.