How to Handle Frozen Pipes
Emergency Plumbing Repairs Can be Called for Even in Warmer Climates
© 2014 by Theo Schmidt; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without written permission.
A frozen exterior water pipe
This article was updated on 12/07/19. Happy National Pearl Harbor Rememberance Day!
If weve learned anything from the winter weather in recent years it is that unexpected storms can happen in any place, at any time. It is important to make sure that in these situations you, your family, and your home are all prepared to handle the freezing conditions.
Taking Precautions against Frozen Plumbing
Ideally youll want to prevent your home from falling victim to frozen pipes in the first place. The phrase frozen pipe can be deceiving because it is not the pipe itself that is frozen, but the water inside it.
When the water freezes it expands, cracking the pipe and allowing water to burst through (once the thaw happens, of course). To prevent freezing in outdoor pipes, always remove garden hoses before winter begins.
If possible, shut off the valve for water to these pipes. Failing to do so leaves water in the pipes that can easily freeze once temperatures drop. One way or the other, put a Styrofoam bib over all outdoor faucets.
For indoor pipes, the main concern comes when you leave your home for an extended period of time and water isnt periodically running through the pipes. If you are leaving your home for more than a day or two, keep the temperature to around 60 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent freezing.
Additionally, leave cabinet or cupboard doors open to let air circulate around pipes and keep them warm. Leaving ceiling fans on will help the air circulate
Finding Frozen Pipes
When you return from a vacation it is important to make sure that your pipes are all still working properly. A pipe covered in frost is a good sign that it is frozen. However, not all of your pipes will be visible to inspect.
Where can you locate pipes? On a concrete slab foundation look for them in the attic secured to the ceiling joists (trusses/rafters). If you have a basement or crawl space, thats a good place to look. Of course you will have risers inside the walls where the plumbing fixtures are but these are not usually visible if they are behind drywall.
Run water in your kitchen, bathrooms, or anywhere else you might have a sink. If the water pressure is unusually low or doesnt work at all, this is a signal that the pipe is likely frozen.
If this is the case, shut off your main water valve immediately to prevent water damage should the pipe burst.
If the pipe has already burst, still shut off the main water valve right away and then proceed to dry out your possessions as best as possible to prevent mold and mildew. For a large pipe burst or a hidden pipe, call a reliable plumber in your area.
Repairing Cracked Pipes
In the case of a burst pipe, it is important to temporarily repair the cracks before thawing the rest of the pipe. Sometimes circumstances will not allow you to fully repair the pipe at the moment so you will have to make do with what you have.
Typically using pipe clamps is a quick and easy solution for burst pipes. If you are unsure of how to repair your pipes, it is better to call a plumber than making the matter worse on your own.
Thawing Frozen Pipes
Once you have identified a frozen pipe and fixed any cracks, it is important to thaw the pipe so that no further damage is done. The location of the pipe will help you determine the best thawing method.
However, you should never use fire or a blow torch to thaw a pipe. The risk is greater than the convenience that comes with the instant heat.
For pipes that you cannot see, you will likely need to make a cut in the wall to access the pipe. If you do not want to have to deal with repairing a wall as well, you can try to thaw the pipe simply by turning up the heat in your house.
If this does not work, you will need to get direct access to the pipe and use an infrared lamp, portable heater, or an extra large heating pad
to thaw the ice.
For more accessible pipes a quick solution is using hot water to thaw them. Wrap a towel or burlap around the pipe and place a bucket underneath. Then pour hot water onto the pipe and repeat until it is thawed. This may take a while; it does not hurt to brew a pot of coffee.
As you are thawing your pipes, make sure the water is turned on so that the water pressure can help to thaw the pipes as well. Only do this though if you are sure there are not any remaining cracks.
In a freak snowstorm or below-freezing temperatures youll have enough to worry about without dealing with a frozen pipe. Instead of risking the thousands of dollars in water damage and the emotional turmoil, prevent frozen pipes as much as you can ahead of time. Having one less concern will make your winter a little more tolerable.
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Theo Schmidt enjoys spending time in the outdoors and is passionate about protecting the environment. He is always looking for ways to improve his own home and relies on Advanced Plumbing and Drains for help.