If you're a homeowner living in a cold climate, you're likely aware of this type of threat, but do you know what to do if your pipes freeze? Given the financial risks involved here, this is something you should know about.
Here are the signs that your pipes may be frozen—and what to do if they are.
How to determine if your pipes are frozen
The most obvious sign that you have frozen pipes is the absence of water (assuming you’re not delinquent on your water bill).
“Frozen water pipes won't deliver water to the sink, tub, or toilet—and blocked heating pipes will prevent hot air from reaching radiators that are past the part that's frozen,” says Mary Redler, Vice President of Polo Plumbing & Heating in Lindenhurst, N.Y.
Ways to defrost your pipes
If you have frozen pipes that are undamaged, Redler says you may be able to defrost them yourself. But the first thing you should do is turn off the water at the main shut-off valve.
“This is important because as the pipe defrosts, you may discover that it did split, but wasn't leaking because it was frozen,” Redler says
Some people recommend using a blow dryer to defrost frozen pipes. Redler says using a space heater will also do the trick.
"Place the unit close by so it sends heat as directly as possible to the frozen area,” she says.
The more heat you can deliver, the faster the pipe will thaw—but she warns it may take a full 24 hours using this method.
“Hopefully the heat will prevent it from freezing even more and splitting the pipe, since water expands when it's frozen,” she explains.
In lieu of a space heater, there are other ways to thaw your frozen pipes. Don Glovan, a franchise consultant with Mr. Rooter Plumbing, recommends using a heat lamp.
He recommends that you start applying heat at the area of the pipe closest to the faucet, and then moving down the pipe.
“Another option is to use electrical heating tape, although some models will need to be plugged in,” Glovan says.
Avoid using these sources of heat to defrost pipes: a blowtorch, propane heater, kerosene, charcoal stove, or any other type of flammable device.
You also need to open a faucet that receives water from the frozen pipe to release pressure in the pipe when it thaws out.
Should you call a plumber?
If your DIY plumbing efforts don’t work—or if your pipes have frozen and burst—bring in the plumbers. And if there's a lot of water in your home that needs to be dried out, call a water remediation company, which has the equipment and the training to remove it.
“If something isn’t dried correctly, such as inside a wall cavity, under a cabinet, carpet padding or subflooring, etc., you could develop problems with microbial (mold) growth later," says Bud Summers, Executive Vice President of operations and training at PuroClean.
Tips to prevent frozen pipes
Insulating your pipes is one of the best ways to prevent the pipes from freezing in the first place. Ben Nuno, a plumbing specialist at Lee’s Air Conditioning, Heating, and Building Performance in Fresno, Calif., recommends insulating all exterior pipes or installing a pipe-heating cable.
Another suggestion is to let your faucets drip water, since water is less likely to freeze when there’s movement in the pipes, and opening the faucets ensures there’s no buildup of water pressure.
Also, try to keep the area around your pipes as warm as possible.
“Open your under-sink cabinet doors to keep warm room air circulating around the pipes,” Glovan says.
He also recommends sealing external openings such as basement doors, windows and crawl spaces with weatherstripping, caulk and sealant.
In addition, you may want to budget for a higher utility bill during the winter months.
“Very cold days are not the time to try to save money on fuel,” Redler says. “You should actually increase the temperature by a few degrees to make sure your pipes are protected.”