How to Thaw Frozen Water Pipes and Prevent Pipes From Freezing

What to do if your water pipes freeze

If your water pipes have burst or are leaking from extremely low temperatures and you have no experience repairing water lines, or are not comfortable performing the repairs yourself, shut off the water at the main and call a licensed plumber. Photo by Eugene Brennan/Pixabay.

Alberta Clippers, Bomb Cyclones, Blizzards. With winter setting in for most of the country, bitter cold temperatures are sure to follow. Along with them also comes the chance of having your water pipes freeze. If you turn on your water faucet when the temperatures have plummeted and you only see drips of water coming out, or if there is no water at all, your water pipes might be frozen.

Although water freezes at 32 degrees, most homeowners shouldn’t even have to worry about the potential for frozen water pipes unless the temperature drops well below 20 degrees. Most newer homes, and homes built in northern climates, are well insulated with the water lines better protected in interior parts of the house.

But for some older homes, homes that aren’t well insulated, or homes built in southern climates, a hard freeze can wreak havoc on the plumbing system. As water freezes it expands, putting excessive pressure on the surrounding pipes, and this can lead to burst pipes.

Know where your main water shutoff valve is

If the frozen water pipe caused a leak or the pipe has burst, shut off the water at the main shutoff valve to stop flooding and limit any further water damage. If you don’t have any experience repairing water lines, or are not comfortable performing the repairs yourself (draining the plumbing system, cutting the pipe and soldering new copper tubing with a blowtorch), or if you can’t access the area where the pipe burst, call a licensed plumber.

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If your house has cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) water lines installed, they are still vulnerable to freezing if the temperatures are low enough. But because PEX is flexible, it expands under the pressure from the freeze and therefore reduces the chance of bursting.

How to thaw frozen water pipes

If your water pipes have frozen but they didn’t burst, you can attempt thawing them out yourself before calling a professional plumber. First, locate where the frozen pipe is. The main places water pipes usually burst are along exterior walls, and places where the main water line enters the home through the foundation.

If the area is accessible, you can use an electric hair dryer to thaw the frozen pipe, or wrap the water pipe in a heating pad or hot towels. If there is no standing water, and there are no flammable materials near the frozen pipe, you can also use a portable space heater to warm the area. Never use a blowtorch or other source of open flame to thaw frozen water pipes, this can cause the water to boil and burst the pipe.

Leave the faucet open while the pipe is thawing so the water will flow as the ice melts. Maintain the heat source on the frozen pipe until the water pressure is back to normal.

Be sure to check all other faucets in the house, and any other unheated areas in your home where water lines are located, including under cabinets and in the garage and basement.

How to prevent pipes from freezing

The best way to not have to thaw frozen pipes is to prevent them from freezing in the first place. Inspect your home’s perimeter and insulate all water pipes that are near exterior walls and unheated areas with foam pipe insulation sleeves, foam and foil pipe wrap insulation tape or foil backed fiberglass pipe wrap insulation.

Exterior walls are the areas that water pipes are the most susceptible to freezing, but also make sure all crawlspace entries are closed and caulked to prevent freezing winds from entering beneath your floors.

The RED Cross recommends following these steps to prevent frozen water pipes:

•  If you have any water supply lines in the garage keep the garage doors closed during extremely cold temperatures.

• To let warm air circulate around the plumbing pipes in the bathroom and kitchen, leave the cabinet doors open during cold weather and especially overnight, but make sure to move all clearing supplies and household chemicals safely away from the reach the reach of children, they are extremely harmful if contacted or ingested.

•  Let the cold water taps inside your house on to slow drip. Keeping the water flowing will help prevent the pipes from freezing.

•  Maintain the same temperature of your thermostat during the day and night.

•  If no one will be at home during cold weather keep the heat on, but keep it set to at least  55° F.

Taking the steps now to prevent water pipes from freezing is one thing you can do now to help protect your home and family this winter, but there are also some other preventative maintenance things you can do to prepare your home for the cold winter days ahead, and help lower your home’s energy bills while you’re at it.


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