Even when outdoor temperatures start to drop, people can usually depend on cozier conditions in their homes. So, it’s all the more annoying when winter manages to slip inside and cause trouble. A particularly frustrating problem is when the pipes of your plumbing system freeze up. Dealing with frozen pipes can range from inconvenient to a widespread, expensive mess.
Many people prefer to call their plumber to take care of frozen pipes, and that’s never a bad idea. But you can also thaw them out yourself with just a few items from your house. To help you resolve this irritating plumbing problem, here’s a step-by-step guide for thawing frozen pipes.
The first and sometimes most difficult step is locating the frozen pipes. Running all your faucets could help you narrow down likely locations. If one faucet isn’t working, you can follow those specific plumbing lines and hopefully locate the frozen pipes. The pipes themselves may not be obvious to spot unless ice is visibly covering them.
Instead, you can move your hands along the plumbing until you pick up on a sudden drop in temperature. Once you’ve found where the plumbing is coldest, you’ve probably found the frozen pipes.
This method won’t work if every faucet isn’t running. You’ll need to check the main water line at this point since it’s the source of your home’s water supply. Each set of plumbing lines will gradually lead back to the water main. You’ll probably find yours in the basement or crawlspace. But if your home doesn’t have either of those things, check near the water heater or in the garage next. If you still can’t find it, go and find your home’s water meter on an exterior wall, as the main line can often be found on the other side.
After verifying the pipes are frozen, turn off the main water supply. You can’t thaw the pipes with ice cold water on the inside, so you’ll also want to run every faucet if you haven’t already. This flushes the remaining water from the plumbing. Toilets will need to be flushed as well.
Once the plumbing is drained of water, it’s time to begin the thawing process. Gather a couple of things before you begin:
You don’t want to heat up the pipes too suddenly, as that might damage your plumbing. Depending on your heat source, focus on the edges of the frozen area. This keeps the process slow and stable. Also, try to heat the pipes closest to the nearest kitchen or bathroom faucet. If any steam or water is produced by the heating process, it’ll head in that direction.
Slowly inch your way along the pipe, heating sections a bit at a time. Some homeowners will also turn up their thermostats, using the warmer air to evenly thaw all the pipes at once. As long as this is done slowly, it shouldn’t be a problem. With any luck, you’ll have successfully thawed your frozen pipes. But there’s one more step to complete.
Head back to the water main. Open the supply line, but only a little. This offers enough water to check for leaks without making a mess. A leak should be fairly obvious to find, and you should shut the water main off again if you do. At this point, it’s usually best to call for a plumber. They’ll have the tools and experience to take care of the damage, including replacing the broken pipes.
If there’s not a leak, however, you can open the main water line the rest of the way before getting to all the faucets.
Sometimes thawing out frozen pipes is a little more complex. Let’s talk about some of the most likely complications and what you can do to work around them.
How long should it take to drain a frozen pipe?
30 to 45 minutes is a good rule of thumb, with more severe icing requiring more time. Don’t try to speed the process up with more heat as this may damage the plumbing and make the problem worse.
What should I do if a pipe bursts or leaks?
Without the correct tools and experience, it’s better to call a trusted plumber in the U.S.. Not only can they resolve things more quickly and effectively, but they’ll have a better chance of recognizing if other plumbing problems are nearby.
How can I reach frozen pipes if they’re behind walls?
A lot of your plumbing is hidden behind walls, making them somewhat tricky to thaw out. Heating the nearest accessible area may work, or you could try heating the section of the wall closest to the frozen pipes. Heat lamps and your thermostat will be the best options. If these don’t work, you may have to remove a section of the wall to get close enough to begin the thawing process.
The best way to thaw frozen pipes is to prevent them from icing over in the first place. Pipes closest to unheated spaces or the outside of your home are at the most risk. It’s not impossible for other pipes to freeze over, but this is less common as they’re probably close to insulation or between the floors of your home where it’s warm-->
If you follow these steps, you’ll either keep pipes from freezing or have a straightforward way of thawing them out. If you’d rather leave the work to a professional, call your nearest plumber in the U.S.. They’ll make sure your plumbing is taken care of safely.
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