What to Do About Frozen Pipes

What to Do About Frozen Pipes

In cold weather conditions, if you open a faucet and just a trickle of water comes out, it can be due to the condition of frozen pipes. Read on to know what to do about frozen pipes.
HomeQuicks Staff
Last Updated: May 30, 2018
Frozen water Pipes
Frozen pipes are a common and a very menacing phenomenon in winters. In most of the northern US, Alaska, and Canada, households face this problem every now and then. 
Amidst cries of global warming, this winter suddenly we encountered temperatures dropping to subzero levels, more often as compared to the last few years. Even the southern parts of the country were caught in the chill and that exposed many infrastructural shortcomings, for which the southerners were not geared up.
Most people are caught unawares, and there's just one helpless feeling in such situations. The best option to solve this problem is thawing the pipes.
How do Pipes Freeze?
Old Water Hose
Glad you had this query! How can something that is not in a liquid state, freeze? So, let me tell you, when we talk of frozen pipes, it is the water inside it that we're talking about, not the pipe itself.
In subzero temperatures, especially at night when the faucets are shut, the still water inside it freezes to become ice. Trouble starts when the ice block becomes thicker and blocks the pipe completely thereby preventing the flow of any liquid water. Losing the water supply is just one of the problems to be dealt with.
When temperatures drop subzero, water has a property of expanding in volume, whereas the pipe material contracts. With the container and the contents battling against each other, the ice always proves to be stronger and the pipe gives way.
Frozen pipes bursting is the worst outcome one can expect. The only cure for this is replacing the entire segment of the damaged pipe. However, if the state of your plumbing hasn't deteriorated that much, you can easily thaw the pipes to restore your plumbing functionality.
Thawing Process
First, you need to turn off the main water supply and locate the area where the water is frozen. The most likely places are where pipes run against exposed surfaces of walls or where the plumbing enters the home near the beams close to the foundation. Here are some points to take into consideration:
As a prerequisite, keep most of the faucets open. This is done because as we commence to thaw the pipe, the ice will begin to melt. The molten water starts to flow out through the frozen area and this flowing water will assist in melting more ice. This water should be allowed to flow out to speed up the thawing precess.
The most common and feasible method is by using electric hair driers, steam irons, or a heat lamp. While thawing pipes with such heating equipment, start from the frozen area closest to the open faucet and then move away from it toward the farthest end.
Do not use a propane heater, a blowtorch or some open flame device for this purpose. This will heat the pipe too quickly and may cause the melting water to start boiling and cause the pipe to rupture.
Another way is to heat some water to a lukewarm temperature and pour it on to the frozen area. It is advisable not to overheat the water till it starts boiling, and heat it only till it gets lukewarm.
However, if you want to speed up the process, you can do it by using boiled water and pouring it over rags of cloth wrapped around a frozen area. Pouring boiling water directly over the pipe might cause the pipe to burst.
Keep applying heat till the restoration of full water pressure is observed through the faucet. In case one cannot locate the frozen area or if it is inaccessible, etc., it is advisable to call a licensed plumber.
Do not stop after you're done with one area. Inspect all remaining faucets in your home to determine, if there are more pipes that are frozen. If one pipe can freeze, there's a large probability that others can freeze as well.
Prevention
There are some ways you can use to spare your plumbing from freezing. Some of these methods can be implemented before the plumbings have been laid down. Keep the given points in mind to prevent frozen pipes:
The best measure is to turn off the main water supply whenever you're not going to use water for a long time, like while going for a vacation or before sleeping on a freezing night.
Take out, drain off, and store the outdoor hose used for watering the garden or car washing. Keep the hosepipe valves open, so as to allow the remaining water to expand freely without any exertion on the pipe and prevent bursting.
Some homes have plumbings installed or passing through the garage. Keep the garage doors shut whenever possible to prevent exposure to chilled air, if there are water pipelines passing through the garage.
Keep the kitchen and bathroom storage cabinet doors open to allow warm air to flow around the pipes. In most of the homes, harmful cleaners and household chemicals are stored in such cabinets. Make sure to relocate them to some safe place out of the reach of children.
In extremely freezing temperatures, allow the water to drip from the faucet. By making the pipes to carry running water - even at a trickle - it prevents the water from freezing as flowing water carries more energy and the temperature remains always above the freezing point. Here, you will be saving more water when you prevent the bursting of your pipe.
Survey the area around your home where plumbing lines are located exposed to freezing air currents. Check the basement, crawlspace, and attic. Insulate the water pipes in these areas without ignoring the hot water pipelines. They too can freeze, similar to a cold water line if the water in it is not flowing through and is still for a long duration.
If your home is still under-construction, make sure you install insulated products aimed at insulating water pipes from the chill. You can consider adding 'pipe sleeves' or installing UL-listed tapes or similar materials on open plumbings. Make sure your contractor follows manufacturer's guidelines while installing and using these products.
In case you receive water from a well, turn off the water pump and drain it dry. Clean and drain the overground pumping lines and the tank, if there is one.

Remember never to use any antifreeze as a preventive method. Antifreeze chemicals are harmful to the environment and there's chance of antifreeze poisoning in humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.
The given steps when implemented successfully, can surely help you concentrate more on Christmas and new year's preparations rather than worrying about the plumbings.