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Complete Guide to Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes

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While snow skiers and polar bears might love the cold and snowy winter months, all that wind and cold air can wreak havoc on us and our homes too. Winter weather can be damaging in a variety of ways.

If your home isn’t well prepared for winter, you can have many problems, including burst pipes from the frigid temperatures. If your home suffers a pipe freezing, then you face a whole host of other issues, including potential water damage.

Preventing frozen pipes is a high priority for homeowners, especially ones who have older homes that might be more at risk.

So, what can you do to prevent water pipes from freezing? What should you do if you suspect you have a frozen pipe? Read on to learn more about how to prevent pipes from freezing and how to address if they do freeze.

Why Frozen Water Pipes Are a Real Problem for Your Home

You know that it’s bad if your pipes freeze. Your pipes are meant to carry water from your water source to the sinks, faucets, and toilets in your home.

The real issue is that water in a liquid state takes up less space than water when it’s frozen. Water expands when it freezes. This puts an enormous amount of pressure on the inside of your pipes which can cause them to crack or even burst.

Have you ever seen a soda bottle or can that’s frozen? The top blows off, or the sides split. The same can happen to your pipes.

The real problem then isn’t just that your pipe doesn’t work anymore. It’s that the water that isn’t frozen will start pouring into your home.

Preventative Steps to Avoid Pipes Freezing

If you live in a climate where the winters are harsh, and the temperatures drop well below freezing, you want to take proactive steps to try to prevent your pipes from freezing. So, what can you do?

Consider your insulation status, especially in those areas of your home more exposed to cold. Consider your attic, crawl space, and basement spaces. Add insulation to these areas to help prevent them from getting too cold.

Look for areas in your home where you might have a water supply line that comes into your home from an unprotected area. This might be from a line from a swimming pool, sprinkler system, outdoor hose, or water line in a garage. Make sure you drain pipes of water that connect to outdoor hose lines in the winter.

If you have exposed pipes that face potential risk to cold, consider adding some insulating products like pipe sleeves to protect them.

Preventing Frozen Pipes in Winter

Once you’re in the throes of winter, there are still some things you can do to help prevent your pipes from freezing from the cold weather.

First, you want to consider where you might be most at risk. These will be the areas of your home that are most exposed to cold and have the most limited access to heat. This might seem obvious, but it will help you as you consider where to look.

First, if you have any water supply lines in your garage, keep your garage door closed. This is just smart anyway to help insulate your home.

Some people, in an effort to save on heating bills, like to turn the heat way down during the day when maybe you aren’t at home. During those coldest days of winter, you might keep your house heated at a higher consistent temperature. It helps to insulate those more exposed areas that are at risk for freezing.

If you can open up access to your attic, do this. It allows some heat to get up to the attic and helps protect that space if there are water lines that run through there.

You can also do something as simple as opening up your cabinet doors so the pipes under the cabinets can get the heat from the house. You might notice how it feels colder under the sink.

Finally, if you’re worried about your pipes on the coldest days, turn each of your faucets on so they are just at a slow drip and leave them on. This means there is water moving through the pipes. Moving water is less likely to freeze up. You might waste some water but could save yourself a tremendous amount by avoiding water damage that comes from a burst pipe.

How to Tell If You Already Have a Frozen Pipe

Are you worried it may be too late and you already have a frozen pipe? There are some clues you can watch for to see if there’s a pipe already frozen.

The most obvious clue might be if you turn on the water and no water comes out. It might also just come out as a slow trickle. This would tell you somewhere there’s frozen pipe preventing the water from moving.

Now, you need to locate where the frozen pipe is located. Look in places where your pipes are most exposed to the elements, like under cabinets and in the basement. You might also listen to see if you hear any water dripping or running.

Start to trace your pipes and look to see if you see any condensation or water around the pipes. If you have an exposed pipe, you can also run your hands over the pipe. The frozen area should feel colder than other parts of the pipe.

Thawing Frozen Pipes

If you think you’ve located the frozen pipe, then the next step is to consider how to get it thawed.

First, you want to locate the water supply source of this pipe and turn off the water. This is especially important if it appears the pipe is cracked or burst. Once the pipe starts to unthaw, you’ll have a flow of water into your house if you don’t turn off the water first.

If you think the pipe is okay, then you can start to think about how to unthaw it. There are some differing opinions here. Some suggest it’s best to turn off the water in case the pipe suddenly does burst or crack during the unthawing process.

Others suggest turning on a faucet that the pipe leads to. Once the water starts to flow,  you’ll know you abated the freezing. If you can’t actually see the pipe because it’s inside the wall, the best plan might be to temporarily turn off the water, though. The outdoor water meter is typically where you can find the main shut-off valve.

Frozen Pipes Inside a Wall

If you suspect the frozen pipe is inside the wall, then unthawing becomes more complicated. Remember, this would most likely be the case on an exterior wall where it would be exposed to the elements on the other side.

The best thing to do in the scenario is to turn up the heat in your home. Start by warming the space up as much as possible to see if that is enough. You might also bring a space heater into the room where you suspect the freeze.

Be very mindful to follow all space heater directions for safety and never leave unattended.

If that isn’t enough, you may have to open the wall to get more direct contact with the frozen pipe. At this point, it might be wise to contact a plumber. You don’t want to start opening walls without being sure you’ve located the correct spot of the freeze.

Thawing a Frozen Exposed Pipe

Thawing a frozen pipe that is visible is a little less complicated. This is still likely to happen under a cabinet, along an exterior wall, in a garage or basement.

To thaw the pipe, you need to get some heat to the area. You don’t want to expose your frozen pipe to an open flame of any kind, though.

Start with a blow dryer on a low or medium setting, not high. Too much heat too quickly can cause the pipe to burst. Use the blow dryer to slowly warm the pipe.

You can also bring a space heater close to the exposed pipe. Again, never leave a space heater unsupervised.

You can also get a heat tape from most home improvement stores that you can wrap around the frozen pipe area to slowly warm it.

Assessing Potential Water Damage

Of course, as a homeowner, you hope you’ll find the frozen pipe and address the issue before you have damage. Unfortunately, you often realize you have a frozen pipe when a pipe bursts and you have a water problem.

Again, you want to be sure to quickly turn off the water, so it doesn’t continue to flow into your house and cause more damage. Then you’ll need to assess the damage and start the clean-up efforts.

If you have significant water damage or pipe damage, you’ll want to call your insurance company and make a claim for repairs. If you have water that has flowed into your home, it’s critical to do a proper clean-up and repair to avoid potential mold problems down the road.

Your insurance claim adjuster can help you with water mitigation and mold prevention, as well as getting quotes to repair the plumbing.

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Acting Proactively Can Help in Preventing Frozen Pipes

Dealing with frozen pipes in your home is definitely on the list of nightmarish homeowner problems. Aside from dealing with the cold and the pipes, the potential for water damage is significant. The more you can do to act proactively to help protect your at-risk pipes, the better.

If you have insurance questions about a frozen pipe problem or want to evaluate your homeowner’s policy to ensure you have the coverage you need, we can help. Contact us today so we can discuss your home insurance needs.

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