Thaw Out Frozen Pipes Safely

Edited by Robbi, Lynn, Doug Collins, Ephraim and 6 others

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First thing in the morning - after a really cold night - you jump into the shower, and receive a very unpleasant surprise, or you head downstairs wearing your robe and slippers, anticipating that first cup of coffee, and you turn on the faucet and to your dismay - nothing happens. If you live in a colder climate, you'll know exactly what's happened. Overnight - somewhere in your plumbing system, a pipe has frozen.

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Although this may seem like a catastrophe of monumental proportions, take heart - among DIY home repairs, this is one of the easiest. You'll need to put on your detective's cap and discover the source of the problem and then plan your attack. If, however, the problem turns out to be difficult, and one for you cannot deal with yourself, you will need to call a plumber right away.

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How to Find the Area and Unthaw Your Frozen Pipes

Items You May Need

  • Heat tape
  • Heat lamp
  • Hand held hair dryer

Step By Step Solution

  1. 1
    Isolate the problem
    .
    By checking all the faucets in the house, you can figure out where the freezing has occurred. It's the pipes on the outside of the house, that freeze up first, especially the north facing wall, so if your shower is on an outside wall, or your sink, that's a good place to start. If you discover the problem only exits with one faucet, then you know the problem is in the pipes under that sink. If the problem extends to all the faucets, the most likely place is where the water comes into the house. This would be either through a basement wall or in the crawlspace under the house.
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  2. 2
    Open all faucets
    .
    This will not only let you know when you have succeeded in thawing your pipes, but also when the water flowing will aid in clearing all ice out of the pipes.
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  3. 3
    Thaw the pipe
    .
    Once you've found the site of the freeze, you can apply heat and thaw out the pipe. How long the pipe has been frozen will determine how far the freezing extends. Usually, if a pipe has frozen overnight, the entire length won't be frozen. For maximum efficiency, start at the most likely place the freezing occurred. You should be able to determine this by examination of the areas exposed to cold or the wind.  
    1. Use a hand-held hair dryer to thaw the pipe.
    2. Aim a heat lamp at the pipe and let it do its work.
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  4. 4
    Be patient - it may take an hour or more to thaw frozen pipes safely.
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  5. 5
    When the water is running again, you can stop using the hair dryer, or put the heat lamp away, and let faucets run for a few minutes.
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  6. 6
    A little preventive home maintenance can prevent frozen pipes in the future
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    When the temperatures are expected to be uncommonly low in your area, take the following precautions.  
    1. Leave faucets dripping.
    2. Wrap vulnerable pipes with heat tape.
    3. Wrap pipes with insulation (year round).
    4. If pipes go through an unheated garage, leave the door from garage to house open.
    5. Going to be away from home for several days? Turn off the water and drain pipes to prevent freezing.
    6. Keep cabinet doors open to expose pipes under sinks to more warmth.
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Tips & Warnings:

  • If you use heat tape, when you wrap the pipes, don't overlap it.
  • If you use a heat lamp, do not place it anywhere near flammable materials and do not leave the house while it is still turned on.
  • Do not place a heat lamp directly below the pipe. When the pipe thaws out it may leak onto a lamp positioned underneath it, which can cause a fire, due to it shorting out.
  • Don't leave the house until the pipes thawed, and water is running freely. When pipes freeze, there's always a chance they'll burst - and if you leave the house without knowing for sure they haven't, you come home to a nightmare.
  • Don't risk using a blowtorch or any open flame.
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Questions and Answers

Do you leave the faucet on when thawing a frozen pipe in wall overnight?

Yes, this can help your situation to prevent the ice from forming. Leave a faucet on in order to keep it from freezing as easily. If you leave the water - just a slight drizzle - it will keep it from freezing as easily during a cold night, because moving water has a lower freezing temp. If the pipe is already completely frozen then turning water on may just cause it to burst as the water builds up pressure behind the ice. If the pipes are thawing themselves out, it's recommended to leave the cabinet doors open with the heat on in your home in order to allow the pipes to thaw out safely.

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A lot of people suggest you do just the opposite - turn the water off to the part of the house that contains the frozen pipe, or to the entire house. The ice might be acting as a plug, and the rush of water that comes when it thaws, might cause leaks or a burst pipe.

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Should I let frozen pipe thaw out by itself?

Yes, it is recommended for you to allow the pipes to thaw naturally, without applying any water or extra techniques for this can cause the pipes to burst, which can cause more harm to your pipes, damage to your home and put a dent in your wallet.

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It's totally fine for you to let it thaw on its own, but it will depend on the severity of how frozen the pipes are in this situation. If you are not in a rush then you can allow them to thaw out on their own, also if the pipes are frozen to the point the pipe is cracking then you will need to replace the pipe immediately.

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Can a pipe freezing cause the pipe to burst?

Yes, depending on the severity of the freezing, the pipes can in fact burst. This happens when the pipes freeze without being attended to properly to thaw them out. This often happens when pipes freeze in people's homes without them knowing it's happened. Later on the pipes are founded to be burst.

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I noticed that my pipes in basement kitchen are frozen, and water is not coming out of the faucet.

Those pipes are against the exterior wall, and I am heating them almost 8 hours

It can take up to 12 hours or more to unthaw exterior wall pipes, especially if the ground is frozen solid against the exterior wall and your basement is not insulated. Make sure that the taps are open and in the future drip the faucet on super cold days.

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I live in the country in a mobile home. Will my pipes thaw on their own?

My pipes have been frozen as of Sunday morning. I have a heating lamp in my pump house and I'm able to get water from the faucet located in my pump house. None of my pipes have busted, so that is good. My question is - will and can my pipes unfreeze on their own?

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Eventually they will thaw on their own when the weather warms up. The pump house heating lamp is only heating the pipes. Close the pump and your frozen pipes are further away. If the weather is going to warm up soon, you can wait it out. You still could have busted pipes though, especially if the weather warms in the day and then drops significantly at night.

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How long to keep water running in kitchen after plugging in the heat tape?

Unknown to me, the heat tape on the pipes was unplugged by relatives. In the nick of time, I got a trickle running from the kitchen faucet, which now has been running for 3 days almost non stop. This faucet is on an outside wall. Yesterday I accidentally shut it off for 4 hours, and again, in the nick of time, I got a trickle running from the kitchen faucet. Just now I discovered the unplugged heat tape and plugged it in. How will I know if a pipe is frozen or not and when I can shut off the kitchen faucet trickle? Thank you.

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When your taps are wide open for maximum flow, and the flow is consistent for at least two minutes, your pipes are not frozen. The heating tape should keep your pipes flowing, even if it is shut off for a few hours.

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My water is not working I bought a space heater to put in the room. Where should I put it?

Where I think the problem is, I just am worried that it may get too hot, does that matter? I have tried: Have faucets open and space heater where I think pipes may be frozen. I think it was caused by: Was away for the weekend and it was very cold

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The pipes will not get too hot. Keep an eye on the area with regular spot checks just to monitor any fire risk from the space heater. Your pipes carry hot water from the hot water tank and most space heaters do not get to a temperature above 90 F.

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Hi, It is a single handle faucet in the bathroom. The hot water (Left) runs but the cold (Right) is frozen and the toilet won't fill. Where do I put the handle to keep the water running until it thaws? Do I position the handle to the cold water side even though nothing is coming out? I opened the vanity doors. Thank you.

Hi, It is a single handled faucet in the bathroom. The cold water (right) side is frozen and the toilet also can't fill. The hot water runs. Where do I position the handle to keep the water on? Thanks

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Position the handle in the middle for lukewarm water if the pipes were operating normally. You may need to check the pipes in your basement and look for burst or frozen pipes that need to be thawed.

If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please post in the comments section below.

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Article Info

Categories : Home Repair

Recent edits by: Maria, rosemary, courtneydcramer

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