Why do pipes freeze?
Few cold-weather maladies are more irritating than frozen pipes, but what exactly causes them? During the drop in temperature, water may freeze inside plastic pipes, which causes it to expand and pressurize. Not only can frozen pipes prevent water from flowing properly, but they can potentially burst and cause flooding to your home. With this in mind, it’s crucial that homeowners know what to do if pipes freeze.
What to do if a pipe bursts
If a pipe bursts in your home, you’ll need to act fast to mitigate additional damage. Shut off your water as quickly as possible. This will help minimize the amount of water that seeps out inside your walls. You may also want to shut off power in the affected area of your home. After you’ve taken these precautionary steps, it’s time to call a plumber and start mopping up any mess that’s been caused. Try to remove as much of the water and lingering moisture as you can to avoid mold and mildew buildup. Depending on the severity of your case, you may also need to bring in other professionals to address damage to your walls, carpet, flooring or ceiling.1
How to unfreeze pipes
How can you tell if your pipes are frozen? If you turn on the bathroom or kitchen faucet and see only a few drops or a trickle of water, this could indicate that water inside the pipes has frozen – preventing a free flow. But don’t panic. You may be more equipped to deal with the situation than you think. Here’s a quick lesson on how to thaw a frozen pipe.
Step 1. Turn on the faucet
Keep it running. Allowing the faucet to drip even slightly can help prevent a pipe from bursting. It’s simple – when freezing takes place, extreme pressure builds between the faucet and the ice blockage. An open faucet relieves this pressure buildup, in turn preventing a burst from occurring.
Step 2. Apply heat to the frozen area
Slowly apply heat using a hair dryer. There are several ways to do this. You can wrap the pipes in thermostatically controlled heat tape, or you can use an external heat source such as a hair dryer or space heater. Do not use a propane torch as this can damage the pipe and present a fire risk.
If you decide to use a hair dryer, begin directing air close to the faucet end of the pipe and gradually move toward the coldest section. Be careful not to overheat the hair dryer or blow a fuse. Remember, the faucet should be left on while heat is being applied.
Step 3. Continue to apply heat
Don’t stop heating until full water pressure is restored. Even then, it’s a good idea to leave the faucet open for a few minutes after the pipe is thawed. This will give the ice time to completely clear from the line.
Step 4. Check all faucets and prevent pipes from freezing in the future
Check each faucet in your home for any other frozen pipes. One frozen pipe may mean that others have been affected as well.
If the problem persists, contact a plumber. You can prevent pipes from freezing again by taking a few simple steps:
- Before traveling, keep the temperature in your home above freezing and turn off all the water to your house.
- Be sure to keep all water pipes, especially those close to outside walls, insulated with foam rubber or heating cable.
- Keep cabinet doors open to allow air to circulate.
- Let your faucets drip cold water – it is harder for a pipe to freeze even if there is a trickle of water flowing through. In order to not waste water, you can collect the drops and reuse it, possibly for cleaning or watering plants.
How long does it take for pipes to unfreeze?
Using any of the handful of methods to thaw frozen pipes will typically take about 30 minutes. This can vary depending on the weather, how long the pipe has been frozen and where the pipe is located. Any of these factors can cause the thawing process to take longer.2
And remember, a frozen pipe isn’t the only issue that comes with cold weather. Find out other ways to protect your home during the winter.
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1https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/what-to-do-if-a-frozen-pipe-bursts-in-your-home/2015/02/19/af9b87be-b857-11e4-aa05-1ce812b3fdd2_story.html, Accessed October 2021.
2https://www.rotorooter.com/blog/pipes/how-to-unfreeze-a-frozen-pipe/, Accessed October 2021.
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