Frozen Pipes: How to Keep Pipes from Freezing

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes: What to do When Pipes Freeze

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As winter comes on, find out how to keep your pipes from freezing and how to thaw them if needed!

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Frozen pipes are one of the most distressing problems a homeowner can encounter. Here’s how to prevent pipes from freezing and how to thaw frozen pipes.

Freezing can create leaks as the frozen water expands and cracks the copper tubing. When this happens, not only will you have little to no water supply, but when the pipes do thaw out, you can have some serious leaks to repair—or worse. 

How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing

  • Keep all water-supply piping away from outside walls, where it could be exposed to cold winter weather.
  • If it is imperative to have pipes located on an outside wall, they must be well-insulated. Piping insulation is sold in both rubber and fiberglass.
  • Insulate pipes in all other unheated areas as well, such as crawl spaces, basement, attic, and garage. Fix the source of any drafts (such as near cables, dryer vents, bathroom fan vents, windows) and insulate pipes at risk.
  • Before winter, close the water shut-off valve inside your home that provides water to outside spigots, and then drain each line by opening its spigot until it no longer drips. Close the spigot.

How to Keep Pipes from Freezing in Subfreezing Temperatures

  • Keep garage doors and outside doors closed, and plug up drafts.
  • Open all faucets, both hot and cold water, to just a trickle, to keep water moving in the pipes to help to prevent icing.
  • Set the thermostat to at least 55ºF both day and night—no lower. Higher is even better, especially if your home is not well-insulated.
  • Keep doors to all rooms open to allow heat to flow to all areas, which helps to warm the pipes in the walls.
  • Open the cabinets under the kitchen and bathroom sinks so that the warmer air temperature of each room can flow around the plumbing. (Be sure to keep cleaners and other hazardous chemicals away from children and pets.)
  • Check your forecast to see if you’ll be having subfreezing temperatures sometime soon.

When Pipes Freeze: How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

  • If no water comes out of a faucet, or it comes out slowly, suspect a frozen pipe. Check all faucets in the house to determine if the situation is widespread. If it is, open all faucets, turn off the main water to the house, and call a plumber.
  • If only one pipe is frozen, turn on the appropriate faucet to help get the water moving in the pipe once it thaws. Locate your nearest water shut-off valve to the break. Don’t turn the water off at this point, unless you find that the pipe has actually burst.
  • Try the hair-dryer trick. Locate the area where the pipe has frozen. Then, starting at the faucet and working backward along the pipe line until you reach the frozen section, work the dryer up and down the pipe. Continue warming the pipe until full water pressure returns to the open faucet. Then reduce the faucet flow to a trickle until the cold snap has ended. Caution: When using a hair dryer, be sure that it and its cord will not be near any water that might start to flow through a crack in a burst pipe.
  • If water starts to gush out of the pipe while you are warming it, unplug the hair dryer and close the nearest water shut-off valve immediately. Keep the faucet open. Call a plumber to fix the burst pipe.
  • If you can not reach a frozen pipe to warm it, call a plumber and shut off the water supply to the pipe. Keep the faucet open.

Get more tips for surviving winter weather, like keeping heating costs low in winter, winter weather terms, and keeping warm in the winter.

Have your pipes frozen before? Tell us about it below!

Source: 

Home Owner's Companion, 1997

Reader Comments

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When Good Maintenance is Punished

This is one area where two wrongs make a right: a poorly maintained house with leaky faucets may never have its pipes freeze while a well maintained house where nothing leaks can easily experience a burst pipe.

Lorian Bartle

frozen pipes

Still in the reno phase on my home, both my incoming water and outgoing waste pipes were frozen. Disaster. But, our pipes were old and small and need to be brought up to code anyway. Luckily, it was all under ground , but not deep enough. 1. we had pitcock valves installed on our outside spigots. 2. dribble water instead of shutting off water. 3. run space heater in areas where needed. 4. also put antifreeze into toilet tanks and sinks to reduce suseptabilty of freezing.

Frozen Drain Pipe

I had expeienced frozen tap lines before..however recently the drain pipes under toilet & shower were frozen creating a mess in bathtub as well.We purchased a moblie home over a year ago.What should we do to prevent this from happening again?

Mobile Prep

Hi, Linda: So sorry to hear, but thanks for asking this important question. A lot depends on how your home is constructed, sited, and set up, assuming that you are talking about a mobile home, not RV. If possible, the first thing to do is to go under your home and wrap all pipes and hoses of all kinds with insulation. Also, make sure that any associated openings into the home are closed and insulated. Next, seal off any (crawl)space under your home. For many years, we had a cottage set on pilings, so each fall we would install custom-cut (by us) pieces of foam board insulation around the perimeter, not just to keep out the cold, but also to keep out the wind. You also have the option of putting heat tape on the pipes/hoses, but we do not recommend this method for directly underneath structures. Next, be sure to leave open any cabinet and room doors in front of pipes so that you can keep their upper portions as close to the home temperature as possible. If necessary, and you can watch it, consider a space heater for your bathroom if you find that it tends to be colder than the rest of the home. Finally, in anticipation of and during really cold spells, let your faucets and bathtub drip (actually, slightly more than a drip) continually. Thanks again, and good luck!

My experience with frozen pipes

I remember when I was much, much younger, my friend and I went for a New Year's weekend in the local mountains, staying in a cabin. When we got there, we found that all the pipes were frozen and we had no water. We called the owner, who told us to open all of the faucets and then build a fire in a certain spot in the front yard Worked like a charm.