Pipes and Sewers

How Do You Thaw Frozen Pipes?

icicles hanging off a roof of your home

Every part of the country can be susceptible to frozen pipes if temperatures drop below 32°F, especially for an extended period. This is true for any type of plumbing pipe material: Copper, steel, stainless, PVC, PEX, galvanized, and more.

Frozen plumbing pipes can be more than just an inconvenience – the frozen water expands and can cause a burst that floods your home, leading to major water damage that your homeowners’ insurance policy might not cover.

To avoid this all-too-common cold-weather disaster, follow these tips for how to identify and thaw frozen pipes in a house.

Symptoms of a Frozen Pipe

First, make sure the issue is actually a frozen pipe. Here are some of the common signs:

  • Little to no water coming out of your faucets or shower.
  • Gurgling sounds coming from your pipes or drains.
  • Smells wafting up from your drains.
  • Pipes have visible frost or condensation.

Even if you don’t experience some of these common signs of a frozen pipe, it’s always good to regularly inspect your plumbing pipes in the winter, especially if temperatures drop below freezing for an extended period.

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

Frozen pipe thawing may seem like a straightforward task, but there are many considerations. The first thing many people consider is: What should I do with my water supply? Should I turn off the water if the pipes are frozen? Should I run hot water if the pipes are frozen? Should I leave the water alone altogether? These are common questions many have, and all can be applicable depending on the situation.

To make sure you’re thawing them correctly, follow these steps:

1. Find the Frozen Pipe

First things first – before you thaw a frozen pipe, you have to first figure out where it is! Locating frozen water pipes isn’t always easy, though.

Here’s how to find a frozen pipe:

  • Turn on all the faucets in your house. If there’s barely a trickle of water or no water at all, the pipe that leads to that faucet is probably frozen.
  • Look in the obvious places first. Basements, attics, and crawl spaces are more likely to have pipes physically closer to the outdoors. Also, pipes in closets or unused (unheated) rooms can be colder than the other pipes in your home. Use a flashlight or your hand to identify visible signs of freezing such as frost, condensation, or bulging.
  • Check your exposed piping. If you know where any visible piping is located in your home, check those next.

2. Thaw the Pipe

It’s a lot easier to thaw a pipe that you can easily access. But before you attempt any thawing method, shut off your main water supply. If you don’t know where your main water line is, here’s a quick guide on how to find it. Next, open all the faucets (cold and hot) in your home to drain out the water – this way, any remaining water won’t freeze, create an additional blockage, or make the issue worse. And, as always, be sure to follow the safety precautions for thawing pipes and using any of the tools below.

To begin the thawing process, follow these methods:

  • Use a hair dryer: Using a hair dryer on frozen pipes is a safe and effective way to slowly thaw them. Placing it on the lowest setting, take the hair dryer and blow the hot air onto the pipe. Gently sway the hair dryer back and forth to not concentrate the heat too much in one spot. If the pipe is in a space without a nearby outlet, use an extension cord (careful not to place it near any water leaks) to reach the pipe.
  • Apply a hot towel: Take a hot towel and wrap it around the pipe, which will help to thaw the ice.
  • Try a portable electric space heater: When using a portable space heater or a heat lamp to keep pipes from freezing further and bursting, you need to be extremely careful. First, don’t use a gas-powered one because it can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Second, placing even a safe-to-use electric one too close to your pipes could result in a burst pipe. This is because flowing water from a thawed area can create too much pressure on a still-frozen area. Lastly, leaving the heat source unattended could be a fire hazard. You’ll also need to be cautious in keeping the heater away from any nearby water (an electrocution hazard).

If these methods aren’t resolving your frozen pipe issues or you’re expecting more days or weeks of freezing temperatures and your pipes are prone to freezing, it’s best to turn off your water supply entirely (to prevent flooding) and call an expert for help.

3. Thaw Any Enclosed Pipes

Even if you can’t visibly locate your frozen pipe or pipes, it’s still possible to safely thaw them using a few simple tricks. Here’s how to unfreeze pipes you can’t see:

  • Turn your heat up. Depending on how much ice blockage the pipe has, simply turning up the thermostat may thaw out the pipe!
  • Use an infrared lamp. If you know approximately where your frozen pipe is located, take an infrared lamp and put it in front of the wall where you suspect the frozen pipe is. Don’t leave your lamp unattended while waiting for the pipe to thaw.

What to Do When a Pipe Bursts

If your pipe bursts as you’re attempting to thaw it out, you should immediately shut off the main water line, and call your local Benjamin Franklin Plumbing for emergency burst pipe repair.

How to Prevent Your Pipes from Freezing

Even with the safest thawing methods, burst pipes are still possible. Avoid this altogether by taking these steps to prevent frozen pipes:

  • Winterize your indoor and outdoor plumbing. Before the season hits, make sure your plumbing is prepped by disconnecting, draining, or insulating as needed.
  • Keep your thermostat above 55°F in winter, even if you go on vacation. A consistent temperature above 55 will help keep your interior warm and prevent any dips in temperature outside from affecting your plumbing.
  • Use heat cables. These have thermostats that will read your pipe’s temperatures and turn the heat on if the temperature gets too low.
  • Install pipe insulation. Like the insulation in your walls, pipe insulation can be especially helpful in preventing cold air from hitting your pipes and forming water on the surface. While applying it to all your pipes can be helpful, the most useful areas would be in unheated spaces like crawl spaces, your attic, and your garage.
  • Relocate pipes if needed. Although this is a more labor-intensive task, it may be necessary if you’re dealing with frequently frozen pipes despite following other preventative methods. Count on our licensed plumbers at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing for re-piping services.
  • Install insulation. Frozen pipes may also be a result of insufficient insulation in your roof and your home’s exterior-facing walls. If you suspect this is the issue, you may want to consider adding more insulation.

Get Frozen Pipes Safely Thawed By the Experts

If you have frozen pipes, thawing them yourself can be risky business. To prevent them from bursting, count on our experts at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing to safely thaw them. If you find that frozen pipes are a frequent issue in your home, we can inspect your plumbing to apply necessary repairs or preventive methods. Call 1-877-BEN-1776 or request an appointment online.

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