What to do if Your Pipes Freeze

Jan 01, 2011

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Cold Pipe
Source: Flickr - michutch42

If you live in a city like New York that experiences freezing winters, your home’s pipes may be in danger of bursting. This occurs when water in the pipes freezes, and subsequently expands, eventually causing the pipes to rupture. If this occurs, not only will you have to replace the busted pipe but your home will also probably incur water damage. But don’t worry, if your pipes freeze there are ways to prevent them from bursting.

Identifying the Problem

When temperatures reach below freezing turn on your faucets to check your pipes. If either no water comes out or it comes out in a trickle, your pipes are most likely frozen. As soon as you realize this you should act immediately, as your pipes are in danger of bursting.

Locating Frozen Pipes

Pipes are usually susceptible to freezing when outside temperatures reach below 25 degrees. The most at-risk locations are those near outer walls. These include pipes in an outer wall, pipes under a sink located adjacent to an outer wall, and pipes in unheated crawlspaces. Often frozen pipes can be spotted because they are frosted or have ice on them, and can sometimes be slightly bulging.

Thawing Frozen Pipes

If you have located the frozen pipe, it’s time to thaw it out. First, turn on the faucet to which the pipe supplies water. If the pipe is behind a wall or ceiling, it will be difficult to reach the pipe. One option is to turn up the heat in the entire house and wait. Another option is to tear out the section of the wall or ceiling that’s covering the pipe and then thaw. However, this is best done by a professional plumber and shouldn’t be attempted without proper experience. A third option is to use an infrared lamp to heat the section of the wall or ceiling, thereby heating the pipes behind it as well.

If the frozen pipe is reachable, the easiest way to thaw it is with a hairdryer. Be sure to heat the pipe from the faucet towards the frozen area so that the water can begin to flow as the ice melts. Another option is to use a heat lamp or a small portable heater.

If these are not available, use boiling water. Wrap a heavy towel around the pipe and pour boiling water over the towel. A final option is to use heating tape. This is a thin, flat ribbon that has heating elements within it. Wrap the tape around the pipe and plug it in.

Preventing Pipes from Freezing

To avoid the aggravation of frozen pipes the easiest thing to do is to leave your faucets on with a slight trickle. The movement of the water makes it more difficult to freeze. Also, leave open any kitchen and bathroom cabinets that contain pipes so that heat from the room reaches them as well.

Pipes that tend to freeze can be wrapped with heating tape that’s turned on when temperatures drop. Additionally, problematic pipes can be insulated by a plumber. Also, be sure to detach garden hoses from outside faucets. Lastly, if you leave your home during the winter, be sure to keep it minimally heated to about 50 degree while you are gone.

If frozen pipes is a recurring phenomenon, you may want to consider contacting a roofing contractor and adding insulation to your roof and walls.

Mark Stevens is a writer from New Jersey who has written over 100 home improvement articles. Want to ask Mark something? Send him a message.

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