Three Steps to Thawing Frozen Pipes

Marshall McCauley

Learning how to thaw frozen pipes in your home can prevent a small problem from turning into a major disaster. Time is of the essence, because frozen pipes can lead to burst pipes, which means costly water damage to your home and major headaches for you.

Follow These 3 Steps When Defrosting Exposed Frozen Pipes

  1. Locate the frozen section. Unless your entire home has been without heat for a while, most often you'll be dealing with a small area of exposed pipe that has frozen during an extremely cold night. Open all the faucets in your home to determine which water lines are operational and which ones are blocked by ice.
  2. Apply heat around the frozen section. When defrosting frozen pipes, DO NOT use open flames or apply intense heat directly to the pipe itself. Ideally, you want to warm the area around the pipe with a space heater or hair dryer set on a low temperature. By warming the pipe slowly, you are preventing steam from forming within the pipe, which can cause the pipe to burst. Begin your thawing at the end of the pipe that is closest to the faucet and then work your way back towards the main water line.
  3. Keep the main water line open. As the ice within the pipe begins to melt, the water pressure can help push the frozen blockage out through the faucet. Be ready to quickly turn off the main water valve if you discover water leaking from the thawed pipe. (Remember burst pipes don't leak until they are thawed.)

If you cannot access your home's water lines because they are within the wall cavity, then thawing the frozen pipes is going to be difficult. It may be necessary to remove sections of sheet rock to allow the heat to reach the frozen pipes. While this can be messy, it is important to get the pipes thawed before a burst line causes a real disaster. You may want to consider hiring a licensed plumber if you are dealing with inaccessible pipes or an entire plumbing system that is frozen.

Although it is important to learn how to thaw frozen pipes correctly, it is equally important to know how to prevent your home's pipes from freezing in the first place. Familiarizing yourself with your home's plumbing system before the cold weather arrives, and taking adequate steps to weatherize it, can help prevent one of winter's most unpleasant home disasters.


About the Author

Marshall McCauley is a builder and freelance writer. He writes from his farm on the Bitterroot River in Montana.

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