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Frozen pipes? Here’s what you need to do now—and how you can keep it from happening next time.January 22nd, 2021 by
Even when a faucet or spigot is in the off position, water can remain in the pipe that feeds it. As temperatures plummet during cold winter months, that water can freeze and expand, bursting pipes and causing damage and flooding in your home. Preparing those pipes for winter before temperatures drop below freezing can save you thousands in pipe repair and other costs.
Identifying Frozen Pipes
You may not notice the warning signs of freezing pipes immediately. Low or no water flow is the most common symptom. If you turn on a faucet and no water comes out, frozen pipes may be to blame. And one of the first—and worst—signs of that freeze is a leaking or burst pipe. If you notice an unanticipated and unexplained drop in pressure, do a quick tour of your visible pipes for obvious water leaks, but be aware that a lack of pooling water isn’t necessarily a sign that all is well. Frozen pipes can reduce or block flow even without breaking, especially when the outside temperature is near or just freezing.
Unfreezing Frozen Pipes
Before attempting to unfreeze pipes, you must make sure ice has not caused any of them to burst. Because bursting usually lead to a water leak, your initial inspection may be sufficient to find any broken pipes.
You have two options for unfreezing the pipes in your home. You can call a plumber who has experience defrosting pipes and plumbing fixtures or you can tackle the job yourself. Fortunately, unless you have significant ice buildup or pipe damage, unfreezing your pipes is a manageable job.
Follow these four basic steps:
- Open your faucets
- Apply heat to your pipes
- Avoid dangerous heat sources
- Monitor water flow
1. Open Your Faucets
When you thaw your pipes, you create water and steam. Both of these need an escape route, so turn your faucets to their open position. Once thawing begins, running water speeds up the unfreezing process. Open faucets also allow you to hear whether the water is running yet as your pipes thaw.
2. Apply Heat to Your Pipes
After opening your faucets, apply heat to the pipes. A therapeutic heating pad or hair dryer works well for this, as both offer consistent heat without posing much of fire danger. Because most pipes are metal, heat should conduct throughout them. Continue to heat them until water flows freely.
Remember, while the risk may be low, an unattended hair dryer or heating pad may still cause a fire. You should stay with your heat source and closely monitor the area around your pipes.
3. Avoid Dangerous Heat Sources
It may be tempting to speed the unfreezing process along by reaching for a blow torch, lighter or open-flame stove. Avoid this temptation. Because your frozen pipes are likely near flammable materials, using anything with an open flame to thaw them may start a house fire.
Likewise, because many heaters and stoves produce carbon dioxide, using them to unfreeze frozen plumbing may be potentially deadly. Sticking to a heating pad or hairdryer is a wiser and safer approach.
4. Monitor Water Flow
If your pipes have a substantial amount of ice in them, you may have to apply heat for longer than you think. Eventually, though, water should start to flow slowly. Continuing to apply heat will cause ice to melt and water flow to return to normal.
After you have unfrozen the pipe, check the other faucets inside your home. If any of them do not produce normal water flow, you may have to repeat the unfreezing process on additional pipes. Once water is flowing normally everywhere, allow a trickle of water to flow through faucets to prevent a frozen pipe recurrence.
Of course, if your attempts to unfreeze your pipes do not work, the problem may be too serious for you to solve. Calling a plumber may be necessary.
Preventing Pipe Freezes
While identifying frozen pipes and unfreezing them may be an emergency, you can reduce your chances of having to thaw your pipes with basic home maintenance. Implementing the following three-pronged strategy usually works:
- Winterize your plumbing system
- Seal your basement or crawlspace
- Safeguard your home during cold spells
Winterize Your Plumbing System
You probably do not continue to water your lawn or use outside spigots during cold winter months. By draining outside pipes before freezing temperatures arrive, you remove water that may freeze inside your pipes.
To winterize your plumbing system, blow out your sprinkler system and disconnect and drain your garden hoses. If you have a pool, drain its supply lines. Then, close the inside valves that supply water to outdoor spigots.
Seal Your Basement or Crawlspace
Cracks in the walls of your basement or crawlspace may allow cold air to encircle pipes. They may also cause your wintertime energy costs to skyrocket. Therefore, seal any visible cracks or install a cold-weather barrier in your basement or crawlspace.
Safeguard Your Home During Cold Spells
If the weather forecast indicates temperatures may drop into the single digits or below freezing, you can take emergency measures to prevent pipe freezes. Turning your faucets on and allowing a trickle of water to flow into your sinks, showers or bathtubs is a good idea, as flowing water tends not to freeze.
You can also open the cabinets under your sinks to allow warm air to circulate around pipes. If your plumbing system has a history of freezing, a pipe heater or 60-watt bulb can keep pipes warm. Using a space heater safely may also protect your pipes by keeping cold parts of your home warm. Before using any of these, remove flammable objects from the area.
Hiring a Plumber to Protect Your Home
If frozen pipes burst, they may cause thousands of dollars of damage to your home. Therefore, you must work diligently to prevent frozen pipes. An experienced plumber can help you winterize your home, unthaw frozen pipes, prevent future freezes and tackle other home maintenance.
Call a Best Pick plumber or plumbing professional today to protect your pipes from the ravages of freezing temperatures.