The US has had a long, harsh winter with snow storms, wind, and ice. You’re sure to know someone who has had frozen pipes, or you may have experienced them yourself. Frozen water pipes can cause massive damage to a building, so learning how to thaw them before they destroy ceiling boards or flood parts of your home is an essential life skill.
How to Tell If Water Pipes Are Frozen
If you’re only receiving a trickle of water or none at all from your faucets, then it’s most likely that the pipes are frozen.
Trace the pipe from the affected faucet to where it’s exposed to the cold. This may be in the roof space, crawl space, basement, near an exterior wall, a place where there is little insulation, or where the pipe comes into the house from the outside.
Frozen pipes may fracture because, as the water freezes, it expands within the pipes causing undue stress on the water system in your home.
What to Do
- Turn the water off at the main water shut-off valve. It’s important to do this as a frozen pipe may crack and, if your water main is turned on, the water will simply flood out through the damaged part of the pipe as it thaws. The shut-off valve is usually located at your water meter.
- Turn on the faucets in the house because this will allow water and steam to escape as you go through the thawing process. Also, when the water runs, it will cause the ice within the pipes to defrost more quickly.
- Gather some containers together so, if the pipe springs a leak, you have something in which to catch the water.
- Apply heat to the pipe. This can be done by warming the air around it or applying heat directly to the pipe. You can use space heaters, hair dryers, electric heating tape, or infrared heat lamps.
- Use hot water to thaw pipes. Wrap towels or burlap sacks around the pipe, put a bucket underneath, and pour hot water over the pipe, being very careful not to scald yourself. Alternatively, soak the towels in hot water, squeeze them out, and place them around the pipe.
- If the frozen pipe is in a wall, try turning up your heat for a couple of hours as this may cause the ice to thaw.
- Once the pipe has thawed, gradually turn the water on at the mains and check carefully for cracks and leaks.
Keep a close eye on the water pressure as it comes out of faucets, as a slight decrease in pressure may mean that there is still ice in there.
If the frozen pipes are inaccessible to you, for instance, in the wall or underground, you need to call a licensed plumber.
What Not to Do
- Don’t heat the pipe from the frozen area toward the faucet, but thaw from the faucet side toward the ice. This means that as it thaws, the water is free to run out of the faucet.
- Don’t leave space heaters unattended or do other chores while your pipes are thawing. You need to closely monitor the whole process in case one of the pipes bursts.
- Don’t ever use kerosene heaters, blow torches, or open flames to thaw frozen water pipes. These are extremely dangerous in this scenario and are a serious fire hazard. In addition, you’re more like to crack pipes by applying such intense, direct heat to them.
If frozen pipes cause increased damage in your home that require some remodeling, be sure to do your research and work with qualified construction companies.