How to unfreeze frozen pipes quickly and safely
It’s one of the most annoying, and unfortunately, one of the most common problems that come with plumbing and winter: frozen pipes.
Just like when you turn on the furnace and expect your house to begin heating up, so too do you expect water to come out of faucets when you try to turn on water. However, when winter temperatures plummet and wind chills drop to the chilliest of levels, pipes are known to freeze, which means no water.
This issue is most common in older homes that are not as well insulated, but pipes can freeze in any home with the right combination of factors. That’s why it’s important to know how to not only thaw frozen pipes as quickly and safely as possible, but also how to best prevent pipes from freezing in the first place in order to avoid a pipe potentially bursting and flooding your home.
How pipes freeze – and burst
Pipes need two things in order to freeze: water and frigid temperatures. When there is a buildup of water remaining in a pipe that is exposed to those low temperatures, that water can freeze.
For the most part, pipes can begin to freeze when the outside temperature drops to 20 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Water expands as it turns into ice, which is how pipes then close up and the water no longer flows.
This creates a considerable amount of pressure on the pipe, no matter whether it’s made of plastic or metal. Any pipe that is allowed to remain frozen for too long is at risk of bursting, which is the worst case scenario that every homeowner wants to avoid.
Once a pipe bursts, water will flow and potentially flood your room or home. The water won’t stop until you locate and shut off water to that pipe. In many cases, the water to the entire home may need to be shut off in order to cut water to the burst pipe.
Identify signs of frozen pipes
The best way to keep pipes from bursting, of course, is to be able to quickly identify a frozen pipe so that you can unfreeze it safely.
Aside from the obvious symptom of not getting water out of a faucet, there are a couple of ways to know your pipes have frozen. This includes pipes or water lines that have a layer of frost on the outside or appear to be bulging.
Please note that a bulging pipe could very well burst and water should be turned off immediately. The pipe should then be repaired by a licensed plumber.
If there is frost on the pipes or water is not running through the pipe, then you may be in luck. You should be able to thaw the frozen pipe safely and have running water again in no time.
How to safely thaw frozen pipes
There are a number of ways to thaw a frozen pipe. With some pipes, you may only need to try one method, while in other situations, you could need to try a combination of methods.
But the first step to unfreezing a pipe is to turn on the faucet. This way, water has a place to go once the ice has melted away.
After turning on the faucet, you ideally will want to find where the pipe is blocked by ice. When you find the ice blockage, aim a hair dryer at the pipe to begin melting the ice. You will know the ice has melted away when water begins to flow from the faucet.
However, in some cases you may not be able to find exactly where a pipe is frozen. If that happens, point the hair dryer at the point in the pipe closest to the faucet. From there, work your way down the pipe to where it feels coldest or where you see any frost buildup on the outside.
If a hair dryer is not working, or you don’t have one, then you can set up a space heater to warm up the air around the pipe. The heater does not need to be – and for safety and fire hazard reasons should not be – placed right up against the pipe or too close to any surface.
For pipes that are inside cupboards, be sure to open the cupboard doors to allow heat from the home to warm the pipe and start thawing ice. You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe by keeping your thermostat set to a higher temperature, but that is not going to be the quickest solution.
If the pipe is still frozen even after following these pointers, then it’s time to contact a plumber and have them take a look.
What to do if a frozen pipe burst
In some cases, you may not be able to thaw a pipe before it bursts. When this happens, it’s best to find and shut off your home’s main water supply line. From there, call a plumber so you can get the repair – and the cleanup – started.
Also, remember to not use electrical appliances anywhere near standing water. Doing so puts you at risk of electric shock.
Remember: Prevention is best
The best way to avoid the hassle of having to thaw pipes is to prevent freezing in the first place.
Follow these tips to keep your home’s pipes from freezing:
- Turn on faucets to allow a slight drip of water to flow and keep water moving.
- Keep the heat on and doors open to allow warm air to reach all rooms with pipes.
- Open cupboard doors under sinks.
- Disconnect and store garden hoses for the winter.
- Use foam tubes or heat tape to wrap uninsulated pipes.
Reach out to Comfortec
If a frozen pipe in your house is causing you trouble, or you encounter any plumbing problems, give Comfortec Heating, Cooling & Plumbing a call toll free, 888-362-2106 or schedule a service call.
We will do our best to get your plumbing issues resolved as quickly and as professionally as possible.
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