How to Prevent and Thaw Frozen Pipes

Water Restoration

For just about every homeowner, it’s one of their worst nightmares. The temperature plummets and before you know it, your pipes are frozen. It can be a stressful situation. Frozen pipes can burst, causing a surprisingly large amount of water damage, and nobody wants that headache! Here are some suggestions for identifying and fixing the situation before it causes extensive damage to your property.

Why Your Pipes Freezecracked pipe - frozen and cracked pipe with leaking water

Milder winters here in the south mean a lot of homes are built differently than they are in places like the Northeast or Midwest where winters are harsher. Unfortunately, that means when a cold front does come in, the pipes in your home are at a higher risk of freezing.

When the temperature drops, water inside your pipes can be exposed to freezing temperatures. Pipes in unheated areas like garages, crawlspaces, and attics, spaces along exterior walls, and places where pipes enter the house are most commonly affected. As water freezes it expands, first, enough to partially block water flow, and eventually enough to stop it completely. As the ice increases, the pressure on the pipe also increases, causing the pipe to crack, leak at the joint, or break.

How to Identify Frozen Pipes

If you suspect that your pipes may be frozen but aren’t quite sure how to tell, check for these common signs:

Visible Cracks or Leaks

A pipe that has already started to crack or leak will usually be more obvious and easy to spot, especially if the pipe is visible. But if the pipe is inside a wall or is otherwise inaccessible, the problem could be a little more difficult to diagnose. You will most likely see a wet spot or even pooling water on the wall, floor, or ceiling in the area where the problem is located. Sometimes, however, water from a leak will travel to a lower spot or an opening and appear there. This may make your search a little more difficult.

Restricted or No Water Flow

Unexplained loss of water is a big sign that there may be a problem in your pipes. Faucets that produce little to no running water when turned on or toilets that don’t refill after flushing are both indicators that your pipes may be frozen. If you turn on a tap and no water comes out at all, that’s a definite red flag.

Frostpiping - exterior pipe covered in frost

Frozen pipes can actually develop a layer of frost on the outside of them. If you can see frost on any of your pipes, that may be an indicator that the water inside is frozen. You may also see your pipe bulging where the ice has built up. 

What To Do If Your Pipes Freeze

If you see any indications of frozen pipes, don’t wait. There are several things you can do on your own to help stop the leak and prevent water damage to your home. 

Take Immediate Action

If your pipes are frozen, the best and safest course of action is to turn the water to your home off at the main shutoff valve. The quicker you can remedy the situation, the better. If you don’t find and thaw the pipe immediately, the chances of it bursting are much more likely. If that happens, you’ll not only have a lot of water to clean up but potential water damage to your home as well, which can be expensive and time-consuming to repair. 

Turn Up the Heat

Immediately turn the heat up in your home while you look for the problem area. While this won’t completely thaw your pipes on its own, it may buy you some time and start the thawing process for you.

Be Prepared

Don’t start working on the pipe without taking some preventative measures. Grab a bucket and some towels to help catch water, and make sure you know where the shutoff valve is and how to get to it. If you can’t get the pipe thawed in time, or water begins to leak once it starts flowing again, you’ll be prepared. 

frozen pipes - dripping faucetLeave the Faucet On

Leave the water on and the faucet in the affected area open. When water starts to run again, it will need a way to exit the pipe. The running water will also help thaw the rest of the ice faster. If you’re too late and a pipe has already broken, you will need to turn the water off immediately to prevent further damage.

Learn More!

Download our free informational article to learn more about how you can prevent water damage in your home this winter!

Start the Thawing Process

Use caution when thawing your frozen pipes yourself. In order for the pipes to thaw, they will have to be warmed gradually. The best method for doing so will depend on your situation. 

Remember, always exercise caution when using electricity around water and make sure you plug into a GFCI outlet to reduce the risk of electrical shock.

NEVER USE AN OPEN FLAME TO THAW FROZEN PIPES!

That includes a torch, blow torch, kerosene, propane heater, or charcoal-fueled stove. The open flame is a big fire hazard. If the pipe is in an enclosed area like a crawl space, it can easily ignite insulation or other building materials. A flame could also easily apply too much heat, too quickly. The pressure inside your pipes is already building up. Too much heat could make that pressure stronger, causing your pipes to break.

Learn More: Frozen Pipes and Warm Weather

frozen pipes - leaking pipes in water damaged wallOther Tips

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

If frozen pipes are common in your home, or if you just want to help reduce your chances, consider one of these preventative options.

Before Freezing Temperatures Strike

pipes - outdoor insulated faucet coverWhen the Forecast Calls for a Hard Freeze

When the forecast calls for a hard freeze, there are several things you can do to prepare your home and help keep your pipes from freezing.

Learn More: Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

Frozen pipes are definitely an inconvenience, but they don’t have to cause extensive damage to your home. Preventative measures and quick action by you can usually prevent bigger problems from forming. 

Don't wait!

Did your home suffer water damage from frozen pipes this winter?

Last edited on 9th of December 2021