Frozen Pipes? What to do and what not to do

Picture of Tips for Thawing a Frozen Water Pipe

With the continual cold weather and expected even colder temperatures, it is not uncommon for homes and businesses to experience a frozen pipe. This could be any pipe from your water line coming in from the street, to the main water line itself out in the street, and any pipe inside your home. Most pipes that freeze are the ones located on an outside wall or in an area that is not properly vented and exposed to outside air, not insulated well or not well exposed to the warmer temperature of the house. Keep in mind that as water freezes, unlike other fluids and solids, water has a unique property that it expands with great pressure and force. The freezing of a water line may not only prevent you from getting water, but also may cause a pipe to rupture and leak, leading to extensive household damage. Both hot and cold water pipes can freeze, and actually hot water pipes may freeze first due to less impurities in the water.


Pipe Insulation - Image Source

The first step is to prevent a frozen pipe.

  • KNOW WHERE YOUR MAIN SHUTOFF IS LOCATED. If a pipe does burst, your first action should be to shut off the water to limit damage

  • Shut off exterior water lines that do not have a frost/freeze free valve system in place. Use the drain back valve or petcock to bleed any water out of the line, be sure to open the exterior bib to prevent a vacuum and allow water to flow out of the pipe visa the drain

  • Disconnect any hoses from exterior bibs

  • According to manufacturers instructions, drain swimming pool lines, sprinklers, and other outside water sources that will not be in use

  • Check around the house for other areas where there may be water supply lines, basement, crawl space, attic, garage, under floors, access panels, or areas that may not be exposed to the home heating

  • Make sure all areas are well insulated from the outside. Use pipe wrap insulation, insulate opening between the pipe and exterior walls, close off all openings to the outside, consider use of UL rated heat tape on exposed pipes that cannot be properly insulated


Dripping faucet

Take action when it gets cold!!!

  • KNOW WHERE YOUR MAIN SHUTOFF IS LOCATED. If a pipe does burst, your first action should be to shut off the water to limit damage (yes, we said that already)

  • Make sure your garage doors are closed and sealed well since most garages are not heated

  • Open cabinets under sink areas to expose the pipes to the warmer air in the room

  • Expose as much of the pipes as possible to the warmer air in the house. Open access panels, drop ceiling tiles, remove anything that can stop the warmer air from reaching problem areas

  • Consider allowing water to trickle from both hot and cold, in problem areas. Moving water in pipes will be less prone to freezing, but may not prevent it from freezing in extreme cold

  • Don’t lower your thermostat when not home, maintain your house temperature as warm as you can. This could cause pipes that normally would not freeze when you are home and have it warmer. A slightly higher heating bill is cheaper than the damage a busted pipe can cause.


How To Prevent Freezing Pipes

What if a pipe is frozen or bursts?

  • KNOW WHERE YOUR MAIN SHUTOFF IS LOCATED. If a pipe does burst, your first action should be to shut off the water to limit damage (yes, we said it again but we know some still won’t go and look)

  • Turn up your heat in the house

  • Safety first: Use a hair dryer to slowly warm a frozen pipe. Try to determine where it may be frozen such as an elbow exposed to cold air, un-insulated section of pipe or where you have had problems in the past. Turn on the water at the spigot to make it easier to thaw as the water starts to flow. Remember, running water is less prone to freezing.  Wrap the pipe in hot damp rags, keep changing them as they cool. This will help warm the pipe and break up the frozen section. Propane torches or open flames are risk for fire or injury. Wood beans, flooring, insulation and other combustibles are usually very close to pipes.  Also, heating a pipe quickly may damage the pipe itself

  • Open the area up to warmer inside air and close off the colder outside air. Use a space heater in the room to warm the room up even further. You can use a fan to direct the warm heat into crawl spaces or access panels

  • Be careful if using electrical appliances in that you may come in contact with water and risk electrocution

  • Anything that is burning a fuel, such as kerosene, will create carbon monoxide.

  • If the pipe is damaged and is leaking, KNOW WHERE YOUR MAIN SHUTOFF IS LOCATED and shut off the water supply. Contact a licensed Plummer to review the damage  and to perform the repair. Also, contact your insurance agency in that your homeowners may cover the repairs or damage

  • When in doubt, contact a professional that is insured and licensed

  • Take steps so this does not occur again

This is also a time of year we see an increase in accidental fires due to homeowners thawing pipes. We do not recommend or encourage the use of open flame devices for thawing pipes. The risk is too great for fire and personal injury to yourself and others. It does not take long for ages wood beams to ignite and generally in crawl spaces or behind walls, there is much dust and flammable materials such as paper from insulation that can catch fire quickly. Hire a professional when in doubt. Take your time warming pipes with safer means as suggested above. The home below was destroyed when the homeowner attempted to thaw pipes with a propane torch.

Aurora firefighters battle a blaze Sunday morning that gutted a home in the 400 block of Pierce Street. The fire began when a resident attempted to use a propane heater to thaw frozen pipes.