During wintertime, the risk of frozen pipes increases considerably. The good news is that in many cases, you can thaw them out yourself fairly easily. In this guide, we’ll take a look at how to tell your pipes are frozen and what to do if they are.
How To Tell if a Pipe Is Frozen
Let’s start by looking at the clues that will tell you if your pipes are frozen. Here are the six main signs:
- Little or no water coming out of the taps
- Gurgling sounds when you open the taps or flush the toilet
- Unpleasant smells coming from the drains
- Low water pressure
- Pipes feel cold to the touch or are covered in ice
- Bulging pipes
Thawing a Frozen Pipe
Now that you’ve determined that your pipes are indeed frozen, let’s see how you can fix the problem.
Turn off Water at the Mains
Before you start thawing your frozen pipes, always shut off the water supply. This way, if the pipe has burst or cracked somewhere along the line, you will minimize the risk of more pressure building up, as well as potential flooding.
Keep Taps Open
This will allow the water to pour out of the pipe as the ice begins to melt and also releases the pressure inside the pipes.
Thawing Exposed Pipes
If the frozen pipe is easily accessible, for example, in the kitchen or bathroom, there are several simple ways to thaw it. The easiest method is using a hairdryer. Start by thawing the pipe from the section closest to the faucet, then gradually work your way along the length of the pipe until it’s completely thawed. If the pipe is made out of PVC, avoid applying direct heat for too long, as this can damage the pipe.
As an alternative to the hairdryer, you can also use electrical heat tape wrapped in a spiral around the pipe. For metal pipes, you can also use a handheld heat gun. Applying hot towels to the frozen pipes also works and can also be used on bulkier items, such as toilet bowls or toilet tanks in which water has frozen.
Avoid using a blowtorch, propane heater or any open flame for thawing. The risk of damaging the pipe or even starting a fire is not worth it.
Thawing Pipes Inside Walls
If you’ve thawed out exposed pipes but you’re still not getting any running water, it’s likely that the pipes are frozen inside the wall. In this case, start by increasing the temperature in your home for a few hours until the blockage is melted. To facilitate warm airflow to the walls, leave any cabinet and wardrobe doors open. You can also use an infrared lamp or a fan heater pointed at the wall to help speed things up.
When thawing pipes, it’s always best to work slowly and gradually. Sudden temperature changes can result in pressure building up in the pipe as the ice melts, which increases the risk of bursting.
Know When to Call a Plumber
Thawing a frozen pipe is a fairly simple DIY job. But if you suspect that the pipe has been frozen for a long time, say over a week, it might be worth contacting a local plumber. This is because the longer a pipe stays frozen, the more pressure builds up until the pipe will burst. Also, if you notice any leakages after thawing the pipes, there’s a chance they have already burst. If that happens, keep the water turned off the mains, and contact a plumber as soon as possible.
You should also consider calling a plumber if the frozen pipes are difficult to access. To some extent, you can try to thaw enclosed pipes on your own. But if it looks like you’ll have to cut out a section of the wall to get to them, hiring a professional is the best way to go.
Do Pipes Always Burst if They Freeze?
Just because a pipe has frozen doesn’t necessarily mean it will burst. It’s worth keeping in mind that it’s not the ice itself that makes the pipes burst but the pressure building up inside them. Also, not all pipes have the same risk of bursting if they do freeze, with PVC and copper pipes being more susceptible to bursting than PEX piping, for example.
However, the risk is there regardless of the piping material used, which is why it’s always best to prevent getting to this scenario. Home and pipe insulation, keeping a constant indoor temperature, and closing the water supply when you’re away for extended periods are just some of the things you can do to protect your pipes in winter.