Frozen pipes create a lot of damage in a short time. Any cold snap that dips below freezing can result in frozen pipes, and the odds are more likely in climates that rarely reach low temperatures. There is plenty you can do to prevent frozen pipes, but what can you do if you suspect a pipe is already frozen? If your water pressure has dropped to a trickle, get ready to find and thaw the pipe responsible.
The key to saving your frozen pipes is to find the portion that’s frozen. Typically, this will be where the pipe is exposed, either on the outside of your building or along the outside wall. Check for frozen pipes by feeling for them. If you have several faucets that feed off one pipe at different intervals, they can also tell you where the blockage is happening. Once you’ve located the ice in the pipe, it’s time to thaw it.
Before you apply heat to your pipe, remember to open every faucet. When the ice melts, that water will need somewhere to go. Additionally, keeping the faucets running will help prevent the pipe from re-freezing as soon as you stop applying heat.
Your heat source should be electric or hot water in nature. Don’t use anything that uses an open flame; no portable stoves, no camp cookers, or blowtorches. These items can melt the ice but can boil the water in the pipe, creating highly pressurized explosions. Put the flames away and try something gentler.
An electric hair dryer is your best defense against frozen pipes. It has a relatively low draw on electricity, but it produces high, steady heat. You can easily direct the heat to target the section of pipe that needs it the most. In a pinch, you can also use an electric space heater set close to the pipes. There are also special heating tapes that you can wrap around a pipe and plug in. You’re unlikely to have that on hand, however, so plan ahead if that sounds like something you’d like to use.
Frozen pipes are like mice: if you see one, there are almost certainly others. Check every faucet and exposed pipe in your building once you find one frozen one. It can be tough to find them all, but the one you don’t bother finding could be the one that bursts. Once you’ve checked a faucet, leave it running at just a trickle. You will pay a higher water bill this month, but it will be worth it!
If you can’t find where a pipe is frozen or you aren’t thawing it within a reasonable timeframe, call for professional help. While it is possible to thaw frozen pipes yourself, it’s better to be safe than sorry. A professional can get your plumbing system working right away, and whatever the price it will be cheaper than calling them with a burst pipe and flooding building.
If you suspect a frozen pipe, don’t delay. You have to find the blockage within your pipe. Then, warm it with an electrical hair dryer or a space heater without an open flame. If you can’t find the frozen spot or you can’t thaw it, don’t delay: call in a professional to help!