How To Thaw Frozen Water Lines And When To Call The Professionals

Home Restoration - Benjamin Baker - October 6, 2023

Winter brings with it the joy of snow and the festive spirit, but it also carries the potential risk of frozen pipes in our homes. As temperatures drop, the water in our pipes can freeze, leading to blockages, reduced water flow, and even bursts. 

This comprehensive guide aims to educate homeowners on how to prevent water lines from freezing, how to thaw them if they do, and the importance of calling professionals when the situation demands it.

What Are Frozen Water Lines?

Frozen water pipes pose a significant risk, especially during the cold winter months. When water inside a pipe freezes, it expands, exerting pressure that can exceed 2,000 pounds per square inch. This pressure is potent enough to rupture almost any pipe, especially when there’s no room for the ice to expand. A burst pipe can initially seem harmless since the frozen water might block any leakage. However, once the ice starts to thaw, the risk of a major flood becomes imminent. Imagine leaving for a vacation to escape the cold, only to return to a home devastated by water damage, with destroyed walls, ceilings, and floors.

Pipes are most susceptible to freezing when they are:

  • Located in an outside wall exposed to freezing outdoor temperatures.

  • Situated in a cabinet under a sink, especially if it’s near an outside wall.

  • In an unheated crawl space or basement.

  • Near outdoor faucets used for garden hoses.

Causes Of Frozen Water Lines

  • Exposure To Cold Temperatures: Pipes that are directly exposed to freezing outdoor temperatures, especially those in outside walls or unheated areas of the home, are at a higher risk of freezing.

  • Lack Of Insulation: Pipes that aren’t properly insulated or are located in areas without adequate heating can freeze more easily.

  • Rapid Drops In Temperature: Quick temperature drops can cause pipes to freeze more quickly than many homeowners realize.

  • Thermostat Settings: If you lower your thermostat at night or when you’re away, it can increase the risk of pipes freezing.

  • Poorly Sealed Homes: Homes with poor sealing can have cold air drafts that expose pipes to freezing temperatures.

Prevention Of Frozen Water Lines

To prevent future freezing of your water lines:

Insulate Pipes And Faucets

One of the most effective ways to prevent frozen pipes is to insulate them, especially those located in unheated areas like attics, basements, crawl spaces, or garages. Pipe insulation is relatively inexpensive and can be easily found at home improvement stores. For pipes underneath kitchen and bathroom sinks, which are also vulnerable to freezing during extreme cold, foam insulation can be applied liberally to provide a buffer against the cold temperatures. Additionally, wrapping your pipes in heat tape or thermostat-controlled heat cables can keep them warm enough to prevent freezing.

Keep Cabinet Doors Open

To ensure warm air circulates evenly throughout your home during cold spells, it’s advisable to leave interior doors slightly ajar. Opening kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors can help distribute heat more consistently around rooms, preventing the pipes inside from freezing. However, if you have small children or pets at home, make sure to remove any household chemicals or potentially harmful cleaners from open cabinets.

Heat Sources Near Pipes

Using heat sources near pipes can be an effective way to prevent them from freezing. For instance, a space heater can be placed near pipes in unheated areas, ensuring they remain warm. However, always monitor any heating devices to prevent potential fire hazards. If you have pipes inside walls that are prone to freezing, consider installing a permanent heating solution in that area.

Leave A Trickle Of Water Flowing

To avoid the freezing of water lines, it’s advisable to let a small amount of water run from faucets connected to exposed pipes. Typically, these faucets are found on exterior walls or in areas like basements or attics. If you’re worried about multiple pipes freezing, consider letting water run from all the faucets in your home.

While allowing a continuous water flow might slightly raise your water bill, it’s a cost-effective measure compared to the expenses of fixing a ruptured pipe.

Here are additional measures to safeguard your water lines from freezing:

  • Maintain a cozy temperature in your home, even if you’re out. Ensure the thermostat doesn’t drop below 55°F.

  • Open the doors of cabinets beneath sinks to let warm air envelop the pipes.

  • Detach and empty outdoor hoses and turn off outdoor faucets.

  • Add insulation to pipes in vulnerable areas like the basement or attic.

  • If you’re planning to be away for a prolonged duration, think about hiring a plumber to empty your water lines.

Adhering to these guidelines can significantly reduce the risk of frozen water lines, sparing you the inconvenience and cost of mending a broken pipe.

Professional Plumber Advice

When it comes to preventing frozen pipes, seeking advice from professionals can be invaluable. Plumbers have the expertise and experience to provide insights that might not be immediately obvious to homeowners. 

Tips For Thawing Frozen Pipes

Frozen pipes can be a significant inconvenience, and if not addressed promptly, they can lead to more severe issues like pipe bursts. Here are some steps you can take to safely thaw frozen pipes:

Identify The Problem Area

Before you can address the issue, you need to identify which pipe or section of the pipe is frozen. A clear sign of a frozen pipe is when you turn on a faucet and only a trickle or no water comes out. The area most likely to be affected will be the one exposed to the coldest temperatures, such as pipes running along exterior walls or in unheated spaces like basements.

Turn Off The Main Water Supply Valve To The Home Or Building

If you suspect a pipe is frozen, it’s essential to shut off the main water supply to prevent any potential flooding if the pipe were to burst. This step will help minimize the amount of water damage and give you a safer environment to work in.

Use Hot Water And A Hair Dryer To Thaw The Pipe

One of the most common methods to thaw a frozen pipe is to use a hair dryer. Start by opening the faucet that the pipe feeds into. Then, beginning at the faucet end of the pipe, slowly apply heat using the hair dryer, moving towards the coldest section. Ensure you move the hair dryer back and forth along the pipe, so you don’t concentrate too much heat in one area. This method can be effective, but it requires patience.

Use Heat Lamps, Portable Heaters, Or Space Heaters To Warm Pipes And Walls Around Them

For pipes that are harder to access with a hair dryer, or for larger sections that are frozen, you can use heat lamps, portable heaters, or space heaters. Place the heater near the frozen section of the pipe, ensuring it’s not too close to avoid any fire hazards. The warmth from the heater will gradually thaw the ice blockage. Always monitor the heater and ensure it’s in a safe position.

Apply Heat Tape To The Pipe’s Exterior Surface

Heat tape is a product designed to prevent pipes from freezing. It can also be used to thaw them. Wrap the heat tape around the frozen section of the pipe, following the manufacturer’s instructions. The tape will provide a consistent heat source, helping to thaw the frozen area.

In all these methods, it’s crucial to apply heat slowly and evenly to prevent the pipe from bursting. If you’re unsure or if the problem persists, it’s always best to contact a professional plumber to handle the situation.

When To Call The Professionals

While some minor plumbing issues can be addressed with DIY methods, certain situations demand the expertise of a professional plumber. You should call a professional plumber to thaw a frozen pipe safely if:

  • You cannot locate the frozen pipe.

  • The frozen pipe is in a difficult-to-reach location, such as inside a wall or in the attic.

  • You are not comfortable thawing the pipe yourself.

  • You have tried thawing the pipe yourself, but it is still frozen.

  • You have any concerns about the safety of your plumbing system.

Here are some of the reasons why you should call a professional plumber to thaw a frozen pipe safely:

  • Professional plumbers have the experience and expertise to thaw frozen pipes safely and efficiently. They know the best methods to use and how to avoid damaging your pipes.

  • Professional plumbers have the tools and equipment necessary to thaw frozen pipes safely. This includes heat guns, pipe thawing machines, and other specialized tools.

  • Professional plumbers can identify and repair any other plumbing problems that may be causing the pipe to freeze. This will help to prevent the pipe from freezing again in the future.

Thawing Frozen Water Lines

In winter’s chill, being prepared is the best defense against frozen pipes. By understanding the causes, implementing preventive measures, and knowing how to address frozen pipes, homeowners can navigate the colder months with peace of mind. However, it’s essential to recognize when a situation is beyond DIY fixes. In such cases, relying on professional plumbers ensures the safety and integrity of your home’s plumbing system. Stay warm, stay informed, and remember that proactive measures today can prevent costly repairs tomorrow.

Find out what to do after a pipe burst by checking out our detailed guide. Visit Restore Our Home and browse through the available resources to learn more.

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