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What To Do When Your Pipes Are Frozen?

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Even in relatively mild winter weather conditions, there's always a possibility that your home's plumbing can fall victim to a deep freeze. Frozen pipes are not only an inconvenience, but they can also wreak havoc on your home if they burst in the process. The following offers a few important tips for dealing with and preventing frozen pipes.

Dealing with Freezing in Progress

Dealing with frozen pipes during the daytime is the preferable scenario, since you'll most likely be able to stop freeze-ups as they happen. A tell-tale sign of an impending freeze is a sudden and steady reduction in water pressure. If and when this happens, simply leave the faucet on and allow it to run. The continuous flow of water will help thaw out the surrounding ice in the pipe.

Do likewise to a couple of other faucets in your home, even if the water's already frozen. Doing so will give melted ice in other parts of your plumbing system an outlet and, in turn, relieve pressure on the pipes and fixtures.

Dealing with an Already-Frozen Pipe

If your water pipes freeze overnight, when you and other occupants are likely asleep, you'll have your work cut out for you. The first thing you'll want to do is make sure the pipes haven't burst or split open due to the expanding force of the ice. If this has happened, you can use a length of rubber hose and some hose clamps to temporarily patch the pipe. You should make permanent repairs before moving on with the unthawing procedure.

Next, make sure the water supply to the frozen pipe is shut off. If you can't do this locally, then shut off the home's entire water supply at the main supply cut-off valve (which is usually found outdoors). Afterwards, open up a couple of faucets to relieve pressure and provide an exit route for melting ice.

At this point, you can do the following to heat up the pipes and melt the ice inside:

  • Wrap several towels or rags around the frozen pipe and drench them with hot water. It's the slowest but safest method of thawing your pipes, although care must be taken to keep the wet towels or rags warm.
  • Use a hair dryer set on its highest setting to melt the ice. Be careful to evenly heat the pipe and avoid lingering on one section for too long, especially when thawing PVC pipes.
  • Use a heat gun to thaw the pipes. It's more powerful than a hair dryer, but also more dangerous and not recommended for thawing PVC pipes.
  • Wrap a heat strip around the pipe. Just make sure it's grounded and kept away from insulation.
  • Aim a space heater at the frozen pipe. This method offers some success, but it requires a large amount of constant supervision.

You'll want to avoid heating the pipes too quickly regardless of the heating method used, as you could risk bringing the water within to a boil. The resulting buildup in steam pressure could do just as much damage to your pipes as the ice.

Prevention Is the Best Policy

Once you have your pipes thawed out, chances are you don't want to go through the hassle again. Here are a few tips you can use to keep your pipes from undergoing the big chill in the future:

  • Leave your kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors open. This gives the warm air in your home a chance to circulate around the pipes.
  • Open your bathroom and kitchen faucets and allow them to run at a slow yet steady drip. Even a tiny amount of moving water can help prevent ice formation at colder temperatures.
  • Instead of lowering your thermostat temperature at night to save money, leave it at your daytime settings to save your pipes.

As a long-term preventative measure, you can ward off freezing temperatures by wrapping your most vulnerable pipes in specially-designed insulation. Adding insulation to unconditioned portions of your home (such as crawl spaces and voids) can also help prevent frozen pipes. For more information, contact a local plumbing contractor