This article can be filed under the Do-It-Yourself section. I was aware that pipes can freeze during a hard freeze, but I did not know that there is a safe way to thaw frozen pipes without damaging them.
How to Safely and Properly Thaw Frozen Pipes
Winter weather generally means frozen water pipes at one time or another during the season. Frozen pipes aren’t only a big inconvenience, they can cause a lot of damage if left alone or if thawed out in the wrong way. Extensive damage can mean having to spend lot’s of money and calling a professional or crawling up under your home in freezing weather.
Frozen water can place over 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch on the pipes. And, several hundreds of gallons of water can gush from a burst pipe each and every hour. Not only does freezing cause damage to your pipes, it can also result in thousands of dollars of water damage to walls, foundations and other parts of your home.
Water expands as it freezes and pipes will eventually crack and burst with enough expansion. Often small cracks, such as hairline cracks will quickly freeze over when they begin to leak and you may not even realize that a pipe has cracked until the weather gets warm enough for the ice to melt.
The first step to any repair is of course to find the source of the problem. This isn’t always easy when it comes to frozen pipes. If you don’t have water in any of the faucets, then the leak is somewhere between the water meter and where the pipes branch off to different areas of the home.
If the water is frozen off in only one area of the home, it is generally either in the wall or the crawl space. The pipes that are at the greatest risk of freezing are located in the outside walls of your home or in an unheated or uninsulated crawlspace area.
Often you can find the frozen area by the evidence of frost or ice on the pipe. And, if the frozen water in the pipe has already expanded to a critical stage, there may be a bulge in the pipe at the area of the freeze.
If you have a frozen plastic or PVC pipe and it’s in an easily accessible area such as under the sink, you can sometimes simply use a hair dryer to thaw the pipe. Don’t hold the hair dryer in one position, move it around in the area that you think is frozen.
With any type of pipe, you can often just wrap a heating pad around it and keep it turned to a low temperature for plastic and a higher temperature for metal or copper pipes. And, hot rags can even be used to try to thaw the pipe. Soak the rags in hot water around 105* and wrap them around the pipe, each time the rags cool, soak them in the hot water and wrap them back around the pipe.
A heat lamp is an excellent tool to use in thawing frozen pipes. Just make sure that you don’t leave it unattended, it can get hot enough to ignite flammable materials. And, don’t forget to turn the faucet on so that the melting water will have a exit out of the pipe.