Frozen pipes are more than an annoying inconvenience; they’re a headache at the worst time of year. Unprotected pipes freeze when temperatures drop below 32 degrees, due to a combination of exposure, wind chill, and the duration of the cold temperatures.
When the temperatures around pipes get too low, the water inside freezes and the ice expands, leading to burst pipes. It’s much easier to prevent frozen pipes than to repair them, so follow these suggestions to keep this from happening to the plumbing in your home or business.
Prevent Frozen Pipes
- Be sure your home is properly insulated, especially any rooms that have plumbing, such as crawlspaces and basements. It’s better to do this in the fall, before the temperatures become too chilly.
- If you locate unprotected pipes, insulate them immediately and be sure to cover any gaps. Pipe sleeves make the job fast and easy. Keep pieces tight against each other for a snug fit and seal all openings with duct tape to keep out cold air.
- Use weather stripping and caulk around crawlspace doors and basement windows to keep warm air inside.
- Install storm windows over basement windows or replace them with energy efficient ones.
- Use thermostat-controlled heat cables around pipes. These are UL-listed and approved for use on pipes. Follow all directions for usage; some models must be unplugged at the end of the season. Never use a heating pad on pipes; they’re not designed for extended use, especially on wet pipes.
- Keep the thermostat set at no lower than 55 degrees, even if you’re not going to be at home.
- Open cabinet doors under sinks to allow warm air to circulate around pipes.
Unfortunately, furnaces malfunction or an unexpected cold snap happens, and pipes can freeze despite your best efforts. Finding frozen pipes is never a good thing, but taking the right actions quickly keeps the situation from turning into a bigger disaster.
Repair Frozen Pipes
- Leave the faucets that aren’t working open and turn off the water supply to the house.
- Try to determine which pipes go to the affected faucets and check them for signs of freezing. You may be able to find the exact frozen spot by feeling the pipe and determining which part feels colder than the rest. If none of the faucets in the home are working, the frozen pipes may be in the main supply line. This will probably require a call to a plumber because making a frozen or burst pipe repair in the main line isn’t something most homeowners can manage on their own.
- Be sure the pipe hasn’t burst before you try to defrost it. If it has burst, be sure the water has been turned off before you repair the pipe or call a plumber.
- Try these methods to defrost a pipe quickly and safely:
- Use a hair dryer to direct warm air to the pipe.
- Aim a small space heater towards the pipes. Be sure to open any cabinets surrounding the pipes.
- Place warm rags over the pipes and replenish as they cool off. You can pour warm water over the rags too; just be sure there is a pan underneath to catch any runoff.
Be sure to thoroughly dry pipes after they have been defrosted so they won’t refreeze. You can make temporary repairs with pipe repair clamps or repair tape, but a plumber should make permanent repairs, or replace a burst pipe.
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How to React to Frozen Pipes