- Are you experiencing a frozen pipe in the house caused by cold weather? Unfortunately, it’s not only a momentary problem with ice blockage inside pipes and, consequently, water stuck in them.
- A frozen pipe can also develop into a more severe structural issue leading to a burst pipe.
- How to keep water flowing in your piping and prevent frozen pipes from bursting, even during the most severe winters? Learn about unfreezing pipes and preventing burst pipes in the article below.
Why do pipes freeze?
You would think the answer is simple—because it’s cold outside! Of course, but quick temperature drops aren’t the only reason pipes freeze.
Other causes are poor insulation and thermostats set too low.
Water has a unique property that many of us remember from school—it expands as it freezes. Consequently, as the water expands, it puts pressure on whatever contains it, including metal or plastic pipes.
Important: Expanding water can cause any water container and pipes to break, no matter how durable the material is.
Risks related to frozen pipes
The first reason homeowners unfreeze water pipes is that this issue makes it hard for water to flow. It may be winter, but we still want to have a nice, warm shower every now and then, don’t we?
Frozen water pipes hamper our daily routine, but their malfunctioning can also cause severe issues to the entire house.
The major issue is when a pipe bursts. Even a minor crack in a pipe can spew hundreds of gallons of water, causing flooding, severe structural damage, and damage to your furnace, not to mention an instant potential for mold!
So, how to deal with freezing pipes?
Prevent frozen pipes
One thing is discovering how to unfreeze pipes; the other is preventing pipes from freezing even before the problem appears.
Let’s see what you can do to prepare your home for colder months.
State Farm suggests taking the following preventative measures to reduce the risk of frozen water pipes:
- Insulate pipes—your home’s crawl spaces and attic will particularly benefit from this advice; exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing.
Tip: Be generous! The more insulation you use, the better protection your pipes get.
- Use thermostatically controlled heat tape or cables to wrap pipes. It’s a ribbon-type wrapping designed to apply heat; you can apply it around frozen pipes and then warm up using a thermostat. Don’t forget to follow the manufacturer’s installation and operation instructions.
- Seal leaks—any leaks that allow cold air inside should be thoroughly sealed—the same with air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents, and pipes.
- Secure outdoor hoses, valves, and all the faucets outside—disconnect garden hoses and valves of the drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets.
- Leaving water drip freely is another way to prevent pipes from freezing. This peculiar tip is quite a natural way to prevent freezing water. Running water, as opposed to standing water, stops pipes from freezing. So, let a trickle of hot and cold water drip overnight when temperatures are cold, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall.
- Adjust the thermostat to keep the same temperature during both day and night to reduce the risk of frozen pipes. In case of extreme cold, a stable temperature set on a thermostat will also help reduce the strain on the furnace.
- Keep cabinet doors open to allow the heat from the interiors to reach un-insulated pipes in cold areas such as under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.
You could have prevent frozen pipes, but you haven’t, and the problem is ongoing? It’s not the end of the world!
Don’t panic; we’ve got a couple of handy solutions.
Important: Despite all the warnings, not all plumbing pipes burst when frozen. There is usually a chance to unfreeze pipes and get back to normal.
What to do when pipes are frozen and you want to thaw them quickly?
Here are a few solutions:
- Call a plumber—in the worst-case scenario, if you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out, leave them on and reach out to a professional. You may not know where are all pipes located, and it’s ok.
- Avoid applying flames to thaw pipes—although it may initially sound like a good idea, never try to thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame. Plumbing pipes may contain flammable materials, so the whole thing may pose a serious fire risk. Water damage is probably slightly better than burning down a house if we have to choose.
Important: Don’t use a propane torch to thaw frozen pipes. You may unintentionally melt the solder or unthaw pipes too quickly, which will lead to a burst pipe.
- Use a hair dryer as a heat source—use warm air to thaw a frozen pipe. To thaw a frozen pipe with a hair dryer, start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the cold or frozen pipe section. Next, gently warm the pipes until the ice has melted and water manages to go through the previously frozen area. Then, open the faucet and let a stream of warm or hot water finish melting the ice.
Tip: Do it with caution. Before you start, ensure you are not standing in water!
- Shut off the water supply—if your water pipes have already burst, turn off the water at your house’s main shut-off valve. Leave the water faucets turned on.
- Turn up the heat on a thermostat—increase the temperature, open cabinet doors, and wait as the flow of warm air contact the pipes. Although this technique may take a couple of hours, it’s a no-risk, safe way of thawing pipes.
- Space heater—put a space heater in a position that makes it face the frozen pipe.
Important: Never place space heaters inside the cabinet or enclosed space. This may cause the space heater or surrounding material to become too hot and cause a fire hazard. Also, you should always keep electrical equipment away from any water sources.
- Boiling water—often, you’ll need nothing more than this for thawing pipes; just pour hot water down the sink as this may be enough to thaw the ice and completely clear your drain.
8. Heating pad—use them on a medium setting until you notice that water starts flowing through your pipes. Then, open the faucet and let warm water run for about 5 minutes to clear the pipes thoroughly.
- Heat lamp—another way to thaw frozen pipes is by incorporating the same heat lamps used in terrariums or for indoor plant cultivation. Direct the light at a safe distance toward your pipes.
Tip: Keep the cabinet doors open when you use a heat lamp.
- Hot towel—similarly to the more sophisticated thermostatically controlled heat tape, hot towels soaked in hot water and wrung out will be great when wrapped around the pipe. The warmth from the towel will cause a slow melting of the ice in the pipe;
- Table salt—NaCl reacts with water by lowering its freezing point. You can either pour it down the drain and let it sit or dissolve a half-cup of salt into a half-gallon of hot water and pour it down the drain. The second method works faster.