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What Do I Do When My Pipes Freeze?

John Turpin is our resident home service repair expert here at Service Direct. He’s got the knowledge and experience to help homeowners like you make sense of most home repair issues. And with Service Direct, we connect you with top-tier service professionals to help with any repairs needed.

Don’t Panic If You Find Your Pipes Frozen

When winter comes, you don’t only have to deal with harsh whipping winds and cold temperatures. At the same time, you will have to think about possible expensive plumbing damages due to frozen pipes.

Of your plumbing system, the exterior pipes and those in uninsulated and unheated areas are the most vulnerable. If left unattended, these frozen pipes could burst and leave you with leaks that could spell serious trouble for your plumbing.

So, then, what can you do? How do you unfreeze frozen pipes or prevent them from freezing in the first place? You’re in luck because we’re here to help you out.

What to do if you have frozen pipes at home
Check out the list below for the most common reasons your home pipes freeze and how to protect them.

Why Do Pipes Freeze?

Cold weather doesn’t only bring sicknesses like the cold and flu. It also causes frozen pipes, which brings about a lot of trouble. Temperature drop causes the water inside the pipes to freeze.

Now, if you remember one of the properties of water, you’ll know that it expands and pressurizes when it freezes. What do you think happens if water freezes, expands, and pressurizes inside, say, a plastic pipe?

The water stops flowing properly and because it expands, there’s the risk of the pipe potentially bursting. If that happens, your home could end up flooded. With this being the case, it is crucial that every homeowner knows what to do with frozen pipes.

What Are the Signs of Frozen Pipes?

One of the things most important for homeowners to know is how to determine if they indeed have frozen pipes. What are the signs to be on the lookout for? Let us tell you briefly about them.

Limited Water

One of the most noticeable signs is the fact you’re getting limited water from the faucet. As we said before, frozen pipes mean the water isn’t flowing properly, hence, the lack of running water.

Bulging Pipes

Since the water expands when it freezes, it causes pressure that makes the pipe bulge. If you notice one of the external pipes is bulging and the temperature is cold, then it could be a sign of a frozen pipe.

Cracks and Condensation

It’s a good indication that a pipe is frozen if you can clearly see it covered in condensation, which forms when warm, humid air gets into contact with the plumbing. Finding small cracks on the surface of the pipes is also a sign that it may be freezing.

Our resident home repair guru, John Turpin, has provided helpful tips and tricks for what to do if your home plumbing pipes freeze.

Gurgling Sounds

Have you been hearing noises coming from the pipes? Like gurgling or banging sounds? A sound that makes it seem like the pipes are talking? This indicates that ice is traveling through the pipes, which also means it’s frozen.

Sewage Smell

Do you smell sewage odor coming from your faucets? This could mean that an exterior sewer line is freezing. The reason for this is likely because the pipes aren’t getting enough aeration as a result of the ice, making it a good place for bacteria to thrive.

So, now you know how to tell if your pipes are frozen. Next, let’s figure out what to do when the frozen pipes burst.

DIY Tips for when your plumbing pipes freeze
Read on below for the main steps to take if your frozen pipes burst.

What to Do When Frozen Pipes Burst?

If your pipes burst due to freezing, you must act quickly. You must mitigate the damage as soon as you can or you could have more serious problems. One thing you should do is to shut off the water seeping into the walls.

By doing this, you can prevent more water from affecting a particular area of your home. You can then either fix the leaks caused by the frozen pipes or call a plumber you trust to perform the repair.

Once the frozen pipes are fixed, you can then start mopping and fixing the mess that the leaks have caused. Remove as much water and moisture left to prevent mold and mildew from growing and causing you serious health problems.

How to Safely Thaw Frozen Pipes

Don’t panic if you find out that your pipes are frozen. You see, you may be more than capable of dealing with the situation. Try the following instructions to see if you can unfreeze your frozen pipes.

1. Turn On the Faucet

The first thing you should do is turn on the faucet and let it run continuously. You can just let it drip slightly, which will help ease the pressure buildup in the pipe and prevent it from rupturing.

2. Use a Hair Dryer to Apply Heat

The next step to prevent frozen pipes from breaking is to apply heat. You can use different tools, such as a hair dryer, an electric heating pad, or a portable space heater. You can also wrap the section of the pipe frozen with towels soaked in hot water.

Don’t use any open flame device. If you plan to use a hair dryer, you can start directing the hot air to the pipe’s faucet end and then gradually move to the coldest part. Be careful not to blow a fuse or overheat the dryer. Also, keep the faucet running.

3. Apply Heat Continuously

Don’t stop applying heat until you have restored full water pressure completely. Even after you do, it’s a great idea to keep the faucet open for a few more minutes. This way, the pipes can clear the ice completely.

4. Check All Other Pipes

Once you are done thawing one part of the pipes, you should check all other pipes around your home. If you have one frozen pipe, there’s a good chance there are others as well. Go ahead and unfreeze them just as you did in the first one.

If you still have the same problem, you should contact a reliable plumber. Also, you should do something to prevent frozen pipes.

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes in the Future

In order to prevent frozen pipes from bursting, it’s a good idea to prevent them from freezing in the first place. You can do that by protecting the pipes before the cold weather begins through the following tips:

  • Drain water from the water sprinkler and swimming pool supply lines.
  • Remove, drain, and store outdoor hoses.
  • Open the outdoor hose bibs to let the water drain.
  • Keep the outdoor faucet open so water can expand without breaking the pipe.
  • Insulate the basements, attics, and crawl spaces.
  • Consider installing heat tapes or pipe sleeves to protect water pipes.

Frozen Pipes FAQs

How Quickly Does a Pipe Freeze?

Pipes can freeze as quickly as 6 to 8 hours. This means that your pipes can freeze overnight, especially if they are unprotected and the temperature outside is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Exterior pipes are more likely to freeze with indoor pipes being more protected and needs 20 degrees Fahrenheit or lower to freeze.

How Long Does it Take for a Pipe to Unfreeze?

It typically takes around 30 minutes for a pipe to unfreeze but it depends on the method used. How long it takes for a pipe to thaw also depends on factors such as the weather, location, and how long it’s been frozen. These factors can either make the thawing process quicker or longer.

Does a Frozen Pipe Always Burst?

No. Frozen pipes don’t always burst but even if they don’t, it’s still a problem. Ice buildup within the pipes can block the flow of water, meaning you’re unable to properly use water from the faucet. Regarding frozen pipes, it’s good to keep in mind the types that are most susceptible to freezing – steel, copper, PEX, PVC, and other plastics. Copper steels are the most susceptible to freezing and most likely to rupture.

Does a Frozen Pipe Thaw on Its Own?

Pipes can thaw on their own, technically. But just waiting is a risky method. While you wait for the ice to thaw, the pipe could have increased pressure due to the water caught between the ice and the faucet. If the pipes have increased pressure, it can lead to them bursting, which is what you don’t want to happen.

Hire a Local Plumbing Pro

The methods above are effective DIY tips to investigate, diagnose, and fix your frozen plumbing pipes. But if you need professional help, then don’t hesitate to contact a local plumbing pro using the phone number or form on this page.

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