A perennial problem that plagues many homes. The tools for a solution are at your disposal
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It is essential to know how to thaw frozen pipes before they become a severe problem.
If you live in an area that regularly experiences freezing temperatures, it’s not unusual for your plumbing to freeze at some point during the winter season. Frozen pipes can be a nuisance and expensive if they burst or lead to leaking.
Fortunately, there are several ways you can prevent this from happening and remediate any problems that do occur.
In this article, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of frozen pipes, why they occur, how to thaw underground frozen pipes and prevent a water pipe from freezing in the first place.
Why Do Pipes Freeze?
The first thing to understand is why a pipe would even freeze in the first place.
Water expands when it freezes, and this expansion is what can cause a pipe to burst.
Another common misconception about frozen pipes occurs when homeowners assume that the temperature outside will prevent their pipes from freezing inside their homes. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that, as several factors can affect whether your pipes will freeze or not.
The primary cause of freezing issues is a change in the temperature inside and outside of your home. When the outside air temperature drops below freezing but leaves the inside temperature above it, this creates what’s known as an “air pocket.” If you were to think about this in terms of the inside and outside temperatures, it’s a lot like being halfway submerged in water. You’ll notice that any part of your body that’s above water will be cold. However, your body below water is kept warm.
Your pipes work in much the same way; if they are close to freezing outside, they will likely be warmer than freezing on the inside. However, if the temperature drops enough and your heat source isn’t potent, you may have a problem.
A pipe can also freeze when a small amount of water turns to ice and creates a blockage and pressure buildup, causing a pipe to burst.
What Temperature Will a Pipe Freeze?
One commonly asked question is what temperature a pipe will freeze. For this, there is no set number because it can vary based on several factors. However, in general, a pipe will begin to freeze when the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
This temperature varies because buried pipes have insulation from earth or materials around the pipes, which helps keep them from freezing. An exposed pipe on a home’s exterior can freeze at temperatures well below 32 degrees.
What are the Risks with a Frozen Pipe?
Although it might be easy to think that a frozen pipe is harmless right away, this isn’t necessarily the case. There are several reasons for this. First of all, as mentioned above, freezing pipes can burst when they completely freeze. When this happens, and you aren’t prepared, it can lead to damage and water leaks.
When there’s a pipe leak, it can be pretty costly to repair because the damage will often occur in the hard-to-reach ceiling or floor spaces. It can also be dangerous for you and your family, especially if you have small children in the home, as frozen pipes can lead to slippery floors and other problems throughout the house.
If you do experience a pipe burst, check your home’s insulation. Pipes that have frozen and the shot will often lead to an increase in the amount of moisture in the air, which can cause problems with mold or mildew growth. This side effect is hazardous for those who suffer from allergies or asthma.
Your home could become uninhabitable pending significant repairs, which would also make your home vulnerable to any number of other issues.
How to Identify a Frozen Pipe
Although identifying a frozen pipe and knowing if your pipes have frozen is not necessarily easy, there are some basic things you can look for. First off, if the outside temperature of your area has dropped well below freezing, the chances are that a pipe or several could be close to freezing. You can also check by using a temperature gauge in the basement or other areas of your home.
An easy way to check for a frozen pipe is to see if there’s ice visibly hanging from the tube. If you do find icicles hanging down, it’s best not to pull on them or try and remove them yourself. This can create water damage that you could have avoided if you left the pipe alone.
If there are no visible frozen icicles, but one of your inside faucets is only dripping out water when fully on, it might be a good sign that you have a frozen waterline. This drop in water pressure is a tell-tale sign of a frozen pipe somewhere.
If water is leaking in a location that seems unusual for drainage (for instance, near a light fixture), it will be best to turn off the water and call a plumber right away.
How to Locate a Frozen Pipe
When you find that your pipes have frozen, it is time to make the necessary repairs. If you know where the frozen pipe is located, the repair can be much faster and easier. It might seem like a simple task, but finding your freezing pipe can be more challenging than it sounds.
To locate your freezing pipe, a standard method is to test your taps one by one. Open up all the sinks and faucets in your home, turn them on fully, then wait a few moments before turning them off. If only one is suffering a lack of water pressure, the problem should be isolated and way easier to solve.
However, if you have tested all the taps and nothing seems to be working, it’s time for some detective work. The frozen pipe could be the primary water source to your home and leave any taps open to prevent unnecessary water pressure buildup.
If you know some pipes have little or no insulation, try to trace the problem back to those areas before venturing further into your home.
How to Thaw Frozen Pipes Safely
If you think your pipes have frozen and thawing them out is the next step, here are some tips to make sure you do it safely. First of all, because frozen water expands when it thaws, a good amount of pressure can build up in your pipes while they’re frozen. This increase in pressure could lead to problems both inside and outside of the pipe.
To avoid this, you should first turn off your main water supply so that there is no more water entering the frozen section of the pipe. After doing so, wait a few moments before turning on the water in your home or using any faucets.
Use hot towels or run hot water through the pipe. This will loosen up any ice around the frozen area, making it easier for you to remove it manually. It’s best to wait about 20 minutes after shutting off your main supply before performing this step.
If water flows slowly out of your taps, leave them on and run cold water to help thaw the pipe faster. Don’t be tempted to run hot water too soon as this can lead to a burst pipe!
If it’s an isolated problem, external heat can solve the problem and prevent a re-freeze. Wrapping the pipe in the form of insulation can help as well. You can also use heat tape or a blow dryer to thaw the frozen pipe.
If you have a frozen main water line, it is best to call a plumber rather than fix it yourself. Your main water supply pipe might be under too much pressure and cause flooding and other significant problems if not dealt with properly. Dealing with a frozen underground pipe is much more complicated and best left to the professionals to resolve.
How to Thaw a Frozen Pipe in a Wall
It will be much more challenging to repair if you have a frozen pipe in your home’s interior or exterior wall. You should contact a professional plumber who can come out and fix the ice blockage for you in most cases. Often, a cut is needed into the wall to access the frozen pipe.
Sometimes, however, you will be able to unfreeze pipes using heat, either via an outside air vent or by turning up your thermostat to over 80 degrees for 3 hours.
If it doesn’t work, you will have to gain access to the pipe, so a cut into the wall will be necessary. Once this has been done, you can add heat to the pipe to thaw it using a space heater.
How to Thaw Frozen Pipes Underground
If the frozen water pipe is located underground near your home, you can try to thaw it yourself, but you will need a plumber to excavate the pipeline in most cases.
If you wanted to try it yourself, follow these steps:
- Put 5 gallons of water into a container.
- Unhook the water meter
- Put the container underneath the main supply line opening valve.
- Attach a gate valve to the supply line and use a pond pump to push water through a hose that you insert into the main water line.
- By working the hose back and forth, the water should melt the frozen blockage.
- Once the water begins to flow, customarily shut off the valve and reconnect the meter.
- Open up the water valve and assess.
How to Prevent Pipe Freeze
Do you want to avoid frozen pipes and burst water heaters this winter? There are several preventative measures you can take to prevent future pipe freezes. Depending on the location and amount of damage, some methods may be more effective than others. Some common recommendations include:
- Insulating pipes with a foam wrap or blanket
- Installing new insulation around any exposed faucet or pipe (if there is any)
- Wrapping electrical heat tape around the line and turning it on during the colder weather. Ensure there’s no overlap in the tape, and it doesn’t touch anything else.
- Keeping a trickle of water running from faucets prone to freezing can reduce the risk.
Preventative measures may not be successful for all homes, so it is essential to know how to thaw frozen pipes. You can use several methods depending on the freezing temperature and severity of the damage. All pipe thawing methods require a certain amount of caution to avoid making the problem worse!
If you do run into a frozen pipe, don’t panic! Try using one of the methods above or calling the water service if it is severely damaged or leaking.