Symptoms of frozen pipes
One of the earliest signs of a frozen pipe is when no water comes out of your faucet when you turn it on. If you notice that, head first to the basement and check to see that the water is still turned on and that you don’t have a leak. Once you’ve confirmed these two things, continue your inspection to make sure one of your pipes has not burst. If your search reveals that your pipes are frozen but none have ruptured, you have two choices:
- Call a plumber to help thaw your frozen pipes. Most times, this is a better idea if you don’t think you can safely thaw the pipes yourself, you don’t know where the frozen pipes are or you can’t access the frozen area.
- Attempt to thaw the frozen pipes yourself. Be aware this option can be dangerous if not done correctly.
How to fix frozen pipes
If you’re not an experienced DIY-er, it’s safer to defer this one to a professional. However, there are fast fixes you can try if you’re experienced with home maintenance work. If you attempt to thaw the frozen pipes yourself, keep the following tips in mind:
- Keep your faucet open. Water and steam will be created during the thawing process, and your pipes need an opening to discharge this. Keeping the faucet open also allows for moving water to run through the pipe, which will expedite the thawing process.
- Apply heat to the section of the pipe that is frozen. This can be done by wrapping an electronic heating pad around the pipe, heating the area with a hair dryer or both. If you lack either of these items, using towels soaked in hot water will help as well. Remember, this is a temporary fix and the heating pad should not be left unattended to prevent a fire.
- Know what not to do. Never use a blowtorch, propane or kerosene heaters, a charcoal stove or any other open flame device to thaw your frozen pipes. That presents a severe fire hazard. You should also avoid using a space heater unless you are sure the area is clear of any flammable material. Again, never leave the space heater unattended.
- Continue applying heat until water flow returns to normal. Once you have successfully thawed the pipe, turn on other faucets in your home to check for any more frozen water pipes.
- Take swift action if the frozen pipes are located inside an exterior wall. This is a serious situation when you should call a professional contractor, as repairs may involve cutting a hole in the wall toward the inside of the house to expose those pipes to warmer air.
How to Prevent Frozen Pipes
While we can’t control the weather, there are things we can do to prevent pipes from freezing. To prevent pipes from freezing and causing major damage, follow these steps:
- Drain water from pipes that are likely to freeze. This includes your swimming pool and sprinkler water supply lines.
- Disconnect any hoses from the outside of your home, drain the hoses and store them in the garage. Make sure to close the indoor valves supplying these outdoor access points.
- Insulate the area around vents and light fixtures. This helps prevent heat from escaping into the attic.
- Seal any wall cracks. Be sure to pay careful attention to the areas around utility service lines.
- Open kitchen cabinets. This allows the warm air to circulate around the pipes.
- Keep the garage doors closed to protect water lines.
- Allow your faucets to drip cold water on the coldest days. The movement will make it harder for the water to freeze.
- Keep your thermostat at the same temperature day and night. Never let it fall below 55 degrees Fahrenheit when you leave your home.
- Ensure you have proper seals on all doors and windows.
- Place a 60-watt bulb in areas where you’re concerned about pipes freezing. Make sure there are no combustible materials near the bulb.
Protection from Frozen Water Pipes
Frozen water pipes and the damage they can cause are a reality for thousands of people each year. That’s especially the case when you are at below freezing temperatures for an extended period of time.
The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety says a burst pipe can cause more than $5,000 in water damage. That’s because the damage can be extensive.
“We see about 2,000 claims per day during an average January winter,” says Chris Zimmer, senior vice president of claims for Whitbeck Insurance. “A number of them are due to frozen water pipes.”
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This story was originally published in 2018. It was updated with new information on Feb. 6, 2020.