How do you thaw frozen pipes and prevent freezing in the future?

Frozen pipes and flooded basements are at the top of the list of things you don’t want to have in your house. Luckily, there are steps you can take now to prevent problems this winter. Keep reading for ideas on how to protect your home before and after your pipes freeze.

Ray Brosnan

Ray Brosnan

Ray Brosnan is the Managing Director and Plumbing Expert at Brosnans Property Solutions.

Work Quickly and Methodically

If your pipe has frozen, time is of the essence. Locating and thawing the pipe quickly is vital, but the method in which you do so is just as important.

In most situations, your exposed pipes are most vulnerable and are usually the culprit – under the sink, along the outside of the property, or even pipes running in your basement. In some cases, you may be able to see the actual section of the pipe that is frozen. It may have a noticeable bulge or frost on it.

Before starting to thaw the pipe out, you’ll want to open the faucet connected to it. Be sure to turn on both the hot and cold taps as this will relieve pressure on the entire plumbing system. Once the blockage is rectified, it will also allow water to flow freely. It’s hugely important to note that you should always begin the thawing process near the actual faucet itself and work your way down towards the blockage. This ensures you’re giving any steam that forms a proper way to dissipate. If you begin thawing near the blockage, the melting ice could become stuck behind the original blockage, which leads to more pressure and an increased chance of the pipes bursting.

If your pipe is exposed, there are several easy ways you can thaw the pipe.

A space heater or form of a heat lamp is a great option as you can place the device near enough to the pipes so the indirect heat can warm and thaw the area. Similarly, you can employ the use of a hairdryer and point it toward the frozen section. When it comes to pipes in an enclosed area, you may have a little bit more work to do. You can always turn up the heat in the area. This may be enough to clear the blockage.

Alternatively, if you feel comfortable doing so, you can cut out a section of the drywall that is blocking your pipes. Then, use one of the aforementioned methods to thaw out the area. It’s vital that you never use an open flame when attempting to thaw a pipe as this could cause serious damage to your pipes and has the potential to cause a serious fire.

If you’re looking to prevent frozen pipes in the future, you can do several things. First off, just keep the heat on. This will keep warmth circulating throughout the property and hopefully keep the issues at bay. If you’ve got any noticeable cracks or holes in your walls, seal these up and look at installing some extra insulation if the problem persists.

Frozen Pipe Prevention

1. Don’t Let Them Freeze
If you know it’s going to [reach] record cold [temperatures], and you know certain pipes freeze in your home, let the water trickle for as long as extreme cold conditions are in the forecast. Moving water doesn’t freeze. Just a trickle of water is enough to keep the water moving. You might need to turn the water on in multiple spots like bathroom sinks or showers to make sure no water is left stationary. Don’t forget to turn on both the cold and hot water faucets.

2. Thaw Quickly
If your pipes do freeze, either because you didn’t turn them on or it’s the first time it’s happened, you want to thaw them quickly so they do not burst. Most home plumbing is copper or PEX tubing. Copper is less forgiving and will split and ultimately lead to water leaks in places you don’t want them. So, if you know you’ve got frozen pipes, you need to deal with them quickly.

If you can access the pipe where it’s frozen, you can try using a hairdryer to thaw it. Do not use open flame inside walls. Setting your home on fire is never a good idea! If the pipes are in the wall or run along an exterior wall (which is often the case) you can try increasing the heat in the room either with a space heater or by turning up the thermostat, if that is an option and it’s safe to do so. It takes a few hours to warm up the air. If you can block the cold air from getting to the pipes, that will help. Sometimes the wall has to be opened up.

3. Prevention – Again
The best way to prevent pipes from freezing in the first place is to make sure your home has good insulation and is weatherized to avoid cold air leaks or drafts. In my experience, it is often the combination of high winds and arctic cold temps that will freeze pipes in places they have never frozen before.

Both domestic hot and cold water plumbing and hot water heating systems pipes all run in walls, crawlspaces, and basements and are subject to freezing. Another great tip is to use technology to monitor your home’s temperature if you are going to be away and shut off your water main. If pipes do freeze while you are away, or the power goes out and causes the home to get cold, you will not have water under pressure flooding your home. Water pipes can break even during warm temps when you are away.

4. Heat Tape
Heat tape can also be used in some applications, along with slip-on foam insulation to help prevent pipes from freezing. This is often helpful in unconditioned crawl spaces in older homes where it’s hard to keep the wind out, and the potential for ongoing freezing is common. I used to live in a home where we would put bales of hay around the foundation before the winter to help keep the drafts from getting through the stone foundation and freezing pipes. Not something I’d recommend today, but it did seem to help!

Link Moser

Link Moser

Link Moser is broker and owner of Experience Homes Group, a New Hampshire-based real estate brokerage firm.

Rene Langer

Rene Langer

Rene Langer, Certified HVAC specialist at Pick HVAC.

Ward off Cold Temperatures Inside

The best way to prevent frozen pipes is to insulate the pipes that are in areas most prone to freezing – your basement, your attic, and your garage. If you have any areas of your home that have air leaks, be sure to properly seal those before cold weather arrives because that cold airflow can freeze pipes.

If you’ve already done both of those things and still want to be cautious, then you can turn on both the cold and hot taps of each sink to let the water just drip so that it continues moving and warming the pipes. Opening the cabinets under the sink also lets the heat in your home flow to the exposed pipes, which helps prevent freezing.

If you discover that your pipes are already frozen, locate the frozen areas that are closest to your faucets so that you can get to work on warming them up. You can use a hairdryer to blow hot air on the frozen sections of pipe or place some hot towels on the frozen pipes to warm them up. Regardless of which method you choose, be sure to leave the taps on so that when the frozen pipes thaw, the water has a place to release.

Once you unfreeze those pipes, point a portable space heater at them to prevent re-freezing during the cold temperatures.

Turn Off the Water and Use a Programmable Thermostat

If you believe your pipes are frozen, the first step you should take is to turn off the water to the house at the meter. Next, increase the ambient temperature by turning on the heat and warming up the entire space. Keep your eyes open as the pipes begin to thaw out. You [may] discover they have been damaged from freezing and are leaking.

You can then source the location of leaks and contact a plumber for any necessary pipe repairs. If you had the water off in the beginning, the leak will be only a minimal amount of water since it is limited to the amount of water in the pipe.

To prevent your pipes from freezing again in the future, you need to make sure the temperature in your building always stays above 40 degrees. One of the best ways to manage the temperature of the building is with a programmable thermostat that has a phone application that connects to the thermostat. This will alert you anytime the temperature goes below a specific threshold.

Bill Samuel

Bill Samuel

Bill Samuel, Owner of Blue Ladder Development.

Andre Kazimierski

Andre Kazimierski

Andre Kazimierski, CEO of Improovy.

Thawing Pipes and Preventing Freezing

Before attempting to thaw your pipes, make sure to turn on your faucets (both hot and cold) to relieve pressure. This will allow the water to escape when everything thaws.

To thaw exposed pipes, there are several tools you can use to apply heat. The easiest are hair dryers or portable heat lamps, but you can also use a hot towel or electrical heating tape. The key is to start by applying heat on the pipes near the faucet and then work your way further away, allowing the water to more easily travel through [the pipes]. Thawing pipes that are not exposed can be trickier, but the easiest way to attempt it is to turn up your thermostat.

To prevent your pipes from freezing, keep your heater on and all interior doors open so that heat can travel throughout the entire house. You can also try allowing your faucets to drip slightly. If you live in a cold climate, you also might want to consider adding more (or better) insulation to your house so that less cold air gets in.

Keep the Water On

Use a space heater, a heat lamp, or a hairdryer to thaw the frozen pipe. Allow cold water to drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes while the temperature is freezing to prevent freezing of the [pipes] Run water through them, even if it’s only a trickle.

Katherine Brown

Katherine Brown

Katherine Brown, Founder & Marketing Director Spyic.

Scott Cam

Scott Cam

Scott Cam, Founder of Blueprint Homes, Australia.

Tips For Thawing and Preventing Frozen Pipes

Frozen pipes can be hazardous and disastrous if left alone. Pipes might burst and cause a lot of water damage that could be very expensive.

Here are some steps to prevent them and thaw your pipes to keep them from bursting if they are already frozen

Prevent Frozen Pipes:

  • Open cabinet doors
  • Keep faucets at a drip
  • Regulate temperature

Thawing Frozen Pipes:

  • Shut off the water
  • Open cabinets doors and faucets
  • Wrap the pipes
  • Apply heat on the pipes
  • Adjust the thermostat

Use Heat Tape and Insulate

Thaw Your Frozen Pipe with Heat Tape
First, make sure the tape is compatible with the material of your line. It’ll prevent you from melting a PVC pipe, for example. It’s typically written on the packaging of your heating tape. Make sure you pick tape that’s long enough for your pipes. Use a piece of wet cloth to clean the pipe’s outside surface because dust will prevent the tape from sticking. After sticking the tape [to your pipe], you can turn it on.

To Prepare for Winter, Insulate Your Pipes
You can use the heating tape mentioned above to prevent any freezing from happening during winter. Heating tapes are designed to detect freezing temperature and turn on automatically.

It’s a more costly solution than putting insulation foam around the pipes. I prefer the latter as it’s cheaper, and it doesn’t [require that you] wire an electric cable around your pipes. Insulation foam is available in a cylindric shape allowing you to slide the pipes in. You can maintain the foam with tie wraps.

Ludovic Chung-Sao

Ludovic Chung-Sao

Ludovic Chung-Sao is the Founder of Zen Soundproof.

Lynda Fairly

Lynda Fairly

Lynda Fairly, Co-founder, and Marketing at Numlooker.

Use A Chemical De-Icing Fluid

One way to thaw pipes is with a chemical de-icing fluid that can be poured down into your home’s pipes. This will cause the frozen pipe to begin to melt and become free of ice. This method does help prevent pipes from freezing again, but it may not completely solve the problem.

Insulating pipes is another technique to keep them from freezing. This may be accomplished by covering the pipes in insulation purchased from any local hardware shop. It will assist in maintaining the heat in and around your plumbing system and keep it from freezing when the weather turns cold.

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