Frozen pipes are becoming more common because of colder winters. With more and more arctic-like cold winters in the future, failing to winterize will result in more frozen pipes.
So what do you do if one or all of your pipelines freeze?
First off, because water expands when it freezes, a frozen plumbing pipe is in danger of bursting. When a broken pipe thaws, water will spray out and typically cause flooding.
Thawing Frozen Pipes: Telltale Signs
The first sign that the water in your pipeline is beginning to crystallize is a slowing down of the flow through the faucet to a trickle.
If you see this sign, immediately turn on that faucet's hot and cold water and let it run continually. This will keep the tap from freezing up and even aid in the thawing process.
Let the water run until it has returned to full flow.
Thawing Frozen Pipes: Testing
If one or more faucets are without water, you need to make an accurate determination of where the blockage is and how many taps are affected.
In very cold weather, multiple sections of the piping are often frozen. To make this determination, turn on all the taps in your home.
If only one faucet has no water then the problem is local. If no water is coming out of multiple taps, then the blockage is in multiple segments.
When there is no water at all is flowing in the house than most likely the main water line is affected, either where it enters the meter or before.
Outdoor pipes are normally buried below the frost line. However, if an underground pipe is already frozen, the only thing you can do is bury it deeper.
Thawing Frozen Pipes: Next Steps
Once you have determined which faucet is affected, you need to determine exactly where the problem lies. Sections of piping that are filled with ice can usually be detected by feel.
A frozen pipe segment will feel cold to the touch whereas water carrying pipe will be 50 degrees after the water has run through it for 2 minutes.
If you have an infrared thermometer, you can use it to locate the segments that are frozen.
Once you have located the frozen segments, and before you start thawing the pipe, be sure to turn off the water at the main.
If the pipe has already burst, turning off the water will prevent flooding once it has sufficiently warmed to restore flow. At the same time, be sure to open the faucet of the pipe you are thawing.
Watching for water to start dripping from the open pocket will allow you to monitor your progress.
Thawing Frozen Pipes: Exposed
To defrost an exposed pipe, turn on and raise a heat air gun or hair dryer to a high position, point it at the pipe and move it back and forth until the water starts to thaw.
An alternate method involves heating up the water in a pot until it boils.
- Wrap the frozen pipe with a rag and fasten it with wire.
- Pour the hot water on the rag.
- When the water on the cloth cools, add more hot water.
Do this until the water thaws and move to the adjacent areas of the pipeline that still contains ice.
Thawing Frozen Pipes: In a Wall
If a frozen pipe is behind a wall and you're pretty sure the pipe is not damaged, you can try thawing it with a different method.
Place a heat lamp or an electric space heater close to the wall behind the pipe. Place it at least 24 inches away from the wall to reduce the risk of fire damage.
Aim the heater or lamp at the wall and turn it on, monitoring it constantly. Remember that safety should be your primary concern.
Although this method takes longer than the exposed pipe, it can still be effective.
Thawing Frozen Pipes: Step 1
First, make sure that the frozen pipe is not cracked.
As you all know, when water freezes, it actually expands. This can cause cracks in the pipe. If the water has solidified after freezing, it expands sufficiently to actually break the pipe.
Obviously, in this case, you will need to get the repair done. But most of the time, the pipes are not cracked but simply blocked.
If you have checked that there are no cracks or leaks in the pipe, turn off the water that flows through the pipe. In some cases, this means that the main water supply to your house has to be closed.
However, in most of the new homes, there are some intermediate shut off valves also available. This actually allows you to isolate the frozen pipe from the rest of your water system.
Thawing Frozen Pipes: Step 2
Next, you have to open up all faucets connected to the frozen pipe. This way you can get rid of the cold water trapped in the pipe. After the pressure is somewhat minimized, allow the thawed water to move out of the pipe.
As for the remaining pipe, you can opt for two approaches. It all depends on what is available to you and the feasibility to reach to the core of the pipe in order to get it thawed.
Just wrap a towel around the pipe and pour hot water from the kettle. This will provide warmth to the frozen section of pipe. With a few minutes, the frozen chunks of ice will start melting.
Thawing Frozen Pipes: Step 3
Although that was feasible, you can also use a handheld dryer if you have one. With a dryer, you can blow warm air on to the frozen part of the pipe to thaw the ice.
Or you can prop a small heater close to the pipe if you have it. Leave the heat on for about an hour. This much time is sufficient to thaw the frozen ice.
If possible, you can also buy an electric pipe heating tape. Another option is to run a plumbing torch along the length of the frozen pipe.
All these methods for thawing a frozen pipe will be fine if you wish to thaw a frozen drainage pipe. But in case it is an ABS or PVC pipe, torches would not work.
Check out our article on leaking pipes