How to Unfreeze Frozen Water Pipes

Freezing temperatures don’t only make you cold and uncomfortable — they can also freeze your pipes. This can be extremely annoying at first glance since water can’t pass through your pipes and you can’t wash your hands or flush the toilet. But, if you take a closer look, you’ll see how dangerous it can be. Frozen pipes can burst if not thawed ASAP; burst pipes, in turn, can flood your property and facilitate the growth of mold and mildew, cause water damage to your house’s foundations, and make your home unlivable for days or weeks.

Fortunately, you don’t have to go through all these problems since there are ways to safely thaw frozen pipes. Read this guide to learn more.

Gather The Right Supplies And Equipment

Before doing anything else, make sure you have all the tools and materials you need on hand. These include:

  • Infrared thermometer (if you already have one at home; if you don’t, there’s no need to go out and buy one)
  • Heat lamp
  • Hair dryer
  • Portable space heater
  • Electrical heat tape
  • Keyhole saw

Identify The Frozen Pipe

Many people don’t know they have a frozen pipe until they notice that water doesn’t flow out of their faucet or that their toilet doesn’t refill after they flush it. If you notice either of these, shut off your main valve to avoid adding even more pressure to your pipes and ensure that water won’t gush out once you’ve thawed out the pipe. Once you’ve turned off the valve, investigate and find out where the frozen pipe is located.

Start by opening checking the faucets and toilets around your house. If all of them don’t function properly, the frozen pipe is most likely near the water meter. If only a few faucets and toilets have a problem, the frozen pipe might be located in an outside wall or in a crawl space.

Once you have an idea of where the frozen pipe is, inspect it and see if it’s bulging, frosted, and/or coated in ice. These are some of the indications that a pipe is frozen. Don’t forget to check if the pipe has any leaks or cracks; if it does, drop everything and call your plumber ASAP.

If the pipe is solid and doesn’t have any damage, feel it with your hands (or use an infrared thermometer if you happen to have one at home) to locate the section that are significantly colder than the other parts of the pipe. Use a screwdriver handle or any other solid object to tap the pipe; as you tap along, listen for a section that has a “solid” sound. Unfrozen pipes have a hollow sound, so any section that doesn’t sound so hollow most likely has ice in it.

If you’ve tested all exposed pipes but haven’t spotted the frozen area, it’s probably located behind a wall. If this is the case, you can try to thaw the pipe on your own but, if you’re not confident that you can do it or if you don’t have the time, you can ask your plumber to do it for you.

Thaw The Frozen Pipe

Once you’ve located the frozen pipe, it’s time to thaw it out. You can do so by taking these steps:

For Exposed Pipes:
1. Open the affected faucet. If there are any nearby faucets, open them slightly.

2. Get your hair dryer or heat lamp and start heating from the faucet to the frozen area. Doing this lets the water flow out as the ice melts. If you go the other direction, water and steam can get trapped in the pipe because their only way out (i.e. the pipe section near the faucet) is still blocked. The pressure from the steam and water can cause the pipe to develop a leak or even burst.

3. If the frozen pipe is located in a kitchen cabinet or bathroom vanity, you can use a space heater to warm it and melt the ice.

4. If your hair dryer or heat lamp can’t do the trick, wrap electrical heat tape around the pipe. Don’t criss-cross the tape and overlap it around itself; instead, wind it carefully around the pipe in a single spiral layer. Once you’re done, plug the tape in a power source and let it warm the pipe. Remember: this will work only if your exposed pipe is near a power source.

For Pipes Behind a Wall:
1. Turn up the thermostat to make your house warmer. Make sure to open the doors of your closets and cabinets so the warm air can get close to the walls.

2. If your house has an outdoor vent, position your space heater near it and blow warm air into it.

3. If you have an idea of where the frozen pipe might be located, heat the wall that’s in front of it using your space heater or heat lamp. If you have an infrared lamp, use it instead of a regular lamp. It passes through air without warming it, which means it can direct most of its heat to the wall and the pipe.

4. If you’ve done the steps listed above but to no avail, you might have to cut a hole in the wall so you’ll have direct access to the frozen pipe. You can use your keyhole saw to create the opening. Remember this, though: never cut a hole in your wall if you’re not sure about the location of the frozen pipe. You can end up damaging your drywall for nothing.

Once you have access to the frozen pipe, use your hair dryer and/or heat lamp to warm the pipe and thaw the pipe. If you notice that this section of pipe always freezes during cold weather, you may want to install a hinged door instead of fixing the hole you made in the wall. This way, you can easily access and thaw the pipe once it freezes again.

These are some of the things you can do to thaw frozen water pipes. Keep these in mind to fix frozen pipes ASAP and prevent them from bursting.

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