Frozen Water Pipes

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If you turn on a faucet after a very cold night and only a trickle comes out, chances are good that ice has formed inside a water pipe, blocking the flow of water. Don’t panic. Just because pipes are frozen doesn’t mean they’ve burst. Here’s what you can do.

If a Pipe Is Broken

If you see standing or flowing water, take immediate action to turn off the water at the main house valve.

Thawing Frozen Pipes

Photo of a white hose bib and house valve protruding from the lower wall of a house.
Exposed pipes are at greatest risk of freezing.

Very often, pipes will thaw as the air temperature warms. While you wait, reduce water pressure by opening all the faucets inside the home one-quarter turn. Water will begin to trickle out, helping the ice to thaw. Remember to close all faucets after full water pressure is restored. Before the next cold night, take steps to prevent re-freezing.
 
It is possible to thaw a section of frozen pipe by applying heat, as outlined below. Use an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use electrical devices around standing water. You could be electrocuted. If you are unable to locate the frozen pipe, it is inaccessible, or you cannot thaw it, call a licensed plumber.
  • Reduce water pressure. First open all the faucets inside the home one-quarter turn and leave them open until full water pressure is restored.
  • Locate the frozen section(s) of pipe. Likely spots include where pipes run along exterior walls or enter your home through the foundation.
  • Thaw slowly. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe. As the ice thaws, water will begin trickling out of the faucets. Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. More than one pipe may need to be thawed.
  • Warning! Don’t use boiling water, a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or any type of open flame to thaw pipes. Intense heat may damage the pipe, start a fire, or boil the water inside the pipe, causing it to explode.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

Hose-cropped
Insulate exposed water pipes before cold weather hits.
By taking a few simple precautions before temperatures drop, you can help save yourself the mess, money, and aggravation frozen pipes can cause.

  • Insulate exposed pipes. Hardware stores stock pipe insulation sleeves, UL-listed “heat tape” or “heat cable,” and similar products. Follow manufacturer's recommendations for using these products. Wrap pipes carefully, tightly butting ends of the insulating material and wrapping joints with tape. According to the American Red Cross, even 1/4 inch of newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes in areas like ours that do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.
  • Winterize hose bibs, pools, and sprinklers. Remove, drain, and store hoses. Close valves that supply outdoor hose bibs and then open the bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without breaking the pipe. Drain water from supply lines to swimming pools and water sprinklers following manufacturer's or installer's directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.
  • Traveling? If you will be away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home
    set to a temperature no lower than 55ºF.

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