Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes

Here in the upper Midwest plumbers have been busy with the recent cold snap. When the temperature plummets, the risk of pipes freezing goes up. In fact frozen pipes are one of the most common causes of property damage during frigid weather and can cause thousands of dollars in water damage for the home or business owner, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.  Pipes that freeze most frequently are those in unheated interior spaces such as basement, attics, and garages.  But pipes that run through your cabinets or that are against an exterior wall are also at risk. Here’s some advice from the American Red Cross on how to prevent your pipes from freezing as well as how to thaw them if they do.

FREEZING PIPE PREVENTIONIMG_1412

During the cold weather months, take measures inside to keep your pipes warm and water running. Some may conflict with your desire to conserve water and heat, but the extra expense is nothing compared to a hefty repair bill.  Here’s what to do.

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. (If you have small children, be sure to remove any harmful cleaners and household chemicals.)
  • Let the cold water drip from a faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe-even at a trickle-helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night.
  • If you plan to be away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55 ⁰ F.
  • For the long term, add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in those areas.

THAWING FROZEN PIPES

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, you probably have a frozen pipe.  Likely places for frozen pipes include those against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.  If the water is still running, you can take the following steps but if you suspect a more serious problem, call a plumber.

  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, chances are others are frozen too.
  • If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen section is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.

If you need supplemental heat, you can add a space heater to a room where pipes may be at risk.

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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