Whether it’s an unexpected cold snap or an extended deep freeze, extreme winter temps can cause the water in your plumbing to freeze. The pressure of water expanding when it turns to ice can rupture the pipe, releasing hundreds of gallons of water per hour and causing thousands of dollars of damage to your home or business. St. Anthony Public Works recommends taking steps to prevent frozen water lines.
If you have susceptible pipes located in an outside wall, under a sink on an outside wall, or in an unheated space:
- Open kitchen and bathroom base cabinets to allow air circulation.
- Insulate problem pipes with foam insulation wrap.
- Temper unheated spaces with a heater. You just need to elevate the crawlspace temperature modestly above freezing, about 40°F.
- If you’ve had issues with a specific pipe before, leave the water running at a slight trickle during cold spells (the size of the lead in a pencil). The dripping water will keep the water in the pipe from freezing. Be sure to have both hot and cold valves open.
WHAT TO DO IF A PIPE FREEZES
Frozen but not ruptured? If you turn on the faucet and the water doesn’t come out or comes out in a trickle, your pipes may be frozen, and you need to act quickly to thaw the frozen pipe before it bursts.
LOCATE THE FROZEN PIPE
- Open the faucet supplied by the frozen line.
- To find the blockage, follow the pipe back from the faucet to where it runs through cold areas such as an exterior wall, unheated crawl space, or in some cases an unheated basement if the pipe is near an outside wall.
- Often the frozen area of the pipe will be frosted or have ice on it. If the situation is getting critical the pipe may be slightly bulged or look slightly fissured.
IF THE FROZEN PIPE IS BEHIND A WALL
If the frozen pipe is behind a wall or ceiling, you’ve got a challenge on your hands. You have a few options:
- Turn up the heat in the house and wait.
- Use an infrared lamp or lamps to heat the wall where you think the frozen area is located. Infrared lamps are better than regular heat lamps because the heat passes through the air without heating it, directing more energy to warming the wall and frozen pipe.
- Tear out part of the wall or ceiling to get to the frozen section of pipe.
THAWING AN EXPOSED FROZEN PIPE
Never use a flame torch because of the fire hazard it creates. Open flame torches are the most common cause of home fires related to pipe thawing. When heating frozen pipes, make sure the affected faucet is open and work from the faucet toward the frozen area so that water can flow out as the ice melts and the water pressure in the pipe will force the ice out once it melts sufficiently.
- Hair Dryer - One of the best and safest ways to thaw the pipe is to heat the area with a high-powered hair dryer. If the pipe is close to the wall, put a cookie sheet behind the pipe to help radiate heat onto the back side of the pipe.
- Heat Lamp - A heat lamp works well to heat an exposed pipe. You can use an infrared or incandescent heat lamp. As before, if the pipe is close to the wall, use a cookie sheet behind the pipe to help reflect heat onto the pipe.
If a pipe bursts before it is thawed, immediately shut off the water at the water main to prevent further damage!
BURST PIPE EMERGENCY
If you discover a burst pipe, it is important to act quickly:
Turn off the water supply. Close the main water shut-off valve. You should find this in the basement or where the service pipe enters your home. Drain the system by turning on all of your cold-water valves.
Call a professional plumber. You will want to work with a contractor that specializes in thawing frozen water service lines.
Contain water damage. Do what you can to collect and manage the leak. If water has been leaking for some time and the ceilings are bulging, use caution. If you notice the leak quickly, you may be able to catch dripping water in buckets or drill a hole in any affected ceilings to let water out.
Turn off electronics/appliances. If water leaks near your electronics or electrical appliances, switch off the breakers for each of them immediately. If they are wet, don’t touch them!