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For some homeowners, learning how to thaw frozen pipes is simply a necessity. Frigid conditions and aged pipes can create a perpetual, inconvenient situation in the winter months. If you’ve found that your water faucets are suddenly ineffective after a cold night, you may be suffering from frozen pipes. This article discusses how to thaw frozen pipes to avoid future damage and inconvenience.

6 Tips on How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

Tip 1: Assess the Problem Area

Inadequate insulation is the usual cause of frozen pipes. Older homes especially suffer from poor insulation in the basement, crawl space, or even exterior walls. However, frozen pipes is still a common occurrence found in sinks placed on exterior walls in new homes.

Before you can begin thawing your pipes, test your faucets. Take note of which faucets still work and which seem to be frozen. If some of your faucets are nonfunctional, consider shutting off the water main and calling a professional. This indicates that the problem is either exterior or affects several locations and may require additional help. If only a couple of your faucets are affected, you may be able to fix the problem yourself.

Once you’ve determined the location, keep the faucets open. This will be essential to thawing your pipes later. Some plumbers recommend shutting off the water main to thaw pipes; others may say that keeping your faucets open is enough to alleviate the pressure. Check the line connected to the affected faucets for visible signs of freezing, such as bulging, wetness, or frost.

Tip 2: How to Thaw Frozen Pipes that are Accessible

Thawing pipes with a warm towel is the preferred method for smaller, localized freezing. This process is slow, but it minimizes the risk of burst pipes. You will need to pour warm water over the towel over the course of a few hours. Be sure to place a bucket under the area to catch the stray liquid.

For a larger area, use a hairdryer. This method quickly and effectively thaws pipes, however, make sure to move the dryer back and forth to prevent overheating. In addition, take precautions against electrical damage. Ensure that the hair dryer and any electrical cords are far from any moisture.

A portable heater isn’t as quick as a hair dryer, but it heats a larger area. Once again, protect yourself and the equipment against electrical damage since you will be near water.

Tip 3: How to Thaw Frozen Pipes in a Wall

icicles on a rusty pipe

Sometimes the culprit for frozen pipes is tucked away behind drywall. The task becomes much more strenuous when attempting to thaw an enclosed pipe. At this point, many homeowners call a plumber. However, you can attempt to do it yourself by placing an infrared lamp in front of the wall where the pipes are located.

An infrared lamp’s heat can penetrate the wall much more effectively than a typical heater. If that method is unsuccessful, you can cut out a section of drywall and try the methods listed above.

Tip 4: Dealing with Damaged Pipes

Losing your water source is often no more than an inconvenience; a burst pipe quickly becomes a homeowner’s nightmare. When pipes freeze, the water expands. The pressure is often too much for older pipes, leading to breakage and leaks. Your pipes can also burst during the thawing process. When portions of the ice have thawed, it can create a sudden burst of water pressure.

A burst line can leak hundreds of gallons of water per hour. If you find a burst pipe, turn off your water main source and call a plumber immediately. For less obvious signs, check for damp walls, bubbling noises, or a sudden drop in water pressure.

Tip 5: Call a Professional

If you notice that an entire system is frozen, your attempts to thaw the pipes are ineffective, or if you suspect a pipe that is frozen inside a wall, give a professional a call. His expertise and knowledge may come with a price, but when compared to damaged or burst pipes, the cost is minimal.

Tip 6: Prevent Another Event

When researching how to thaw frozen pipes, realize that the best method is prevention. If you’ve noticed a trend of frozen pipes, it may be time to invest in additional insulation. For exterior-facing walls, removing the affected section and installing new batting can be a permanent solution to your frozen pipes. If your crawl space is the issue, you can install extruded polystyrene boards and ensure that the air vents are properly insulated.

For mild cold spells, open a faucet to let water trickle through the system. However, keep in mind that this can cause additional issues in more extreme conditions. If a sink installed on an exterior wall is the affected area, try opening the cabinets periodically to keep the pipes at room temperature.

Many plumbing disasters occur when homeowners are away on winter vacation. Consider investing in a smartphone-enabled thermostat. This allows you to monitor your home’s temperature remotely and adjust it accordingly.

Putting It All Together

Learning how to thaw frozen pipes can save you time and money. If the problem is localized, you may be able to thaw the pipes by the warm towel method, a hairdryer, or a space heater. If the pipes are located in the wall, you can try an infrared lamp or cut out a section of the drywall.

Never hesitate to call a professional if you feel that the task is becoming out of control. Finally, prevent your pipes from freezing next year by effectively insulating your problem areas, such as basements, exterior walls, and crawl spaces. This year, get the jump on old man winter and practice these tips on how to thaw frozen pipes.