What Should You Do If Your Pipes Freeze?
Frozen pipes are a homeowner’s worst nightmare in the winter. Not only do they prevent your water from flowing, they also pose a huge risk for bursting if quick action isn’t taken. Knowing what to do when your pipes freeze could save you thousands of dollars, since burst pipes can cause massive property damage by flooding areas of your home. As they say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” so first let’s understand what causes pipes to freeze in the winter and how to prevent it from happening.
Why Do Pipes Freeze?
During the winter, your water pipes are particularly vulnerable to freezing. But frozen pipes aren’t a commonly accepted part of home ownership – most of us are surprised and dismayed when a frozen pipe renders our plumbing system unusable or worse, bursts and causes flooding. Below are some factors that can make your pipes more susceptible to freezing. These factors often combine to create a recipe for disaster:
- Temperatures of 20 degrees or lower – Although water freezes at 32 degrees, the water inside your pipes is more protected than the water sitting directly outside. Temperatures must dip far below freezing. Most cases of frozen pipes happen when the outside temperature reaches 20 degrees or lower.
- Being in unheated interior spaces – Your attic, crawl space, and basement often have pipes in them, but they don’t have the benefit of your home’s heating to keep them warm. Pipes most often burst in these unheated areas of your home.
- Being located in exterior walls – Pipes located in the outer walls of your home are right up against the cold. This position can be made worse by insufficient insulation or cracks in your walls that let cold air in.
- Insufficient insulation – Insulation protects against the cold, so if you don’t have enough in your walls, attic, or crawl space, your pipes are at a greater risk for freezing.
- Drafty areas – Wind chill can play a large role in your pipes freezing. If your attic or crawl space is drafty, the pipes there are much more likely to freeze.
How to Prevent Your Pipes From Freezing
You can’t control the weather, but you can take precautions to winterize your home and drastically reduce the chances of your pipes freezing:
- Seal up cracks in exterior walls – Pay close attention to where service lines, such as TV and internet cables, enter your home.
- Add insulation to unheated interior spaces – If your attic or crawl space has insufficient insulation, adding more could save your pipes.
- Open cabinets under sinks – This allows heated air to circulate around the pipes.
- Insulate the pipes themselves – Wrap exposed pipes in heating tape or pipe insulation.
- Keep your home heated – If you’re going out of town, leave your thermostat set to at least 55 degrees.
- Open faucets – If you know temperatures will be plummeting, open your faucets slightly to allow water to trickle from them.
What to Do When Your Pipes Freeze
If it’s below freezing and you notice that you’re not getting water from one or more faucets, you likely have a frozen pipe. Quick action is essential to thaw the pipe and prevent it from bursting. Take the following steps to protect your plumbing and your home:
- Shut off your water – You need to find your main water supply valve. If you don’t know where it is, call your utility company’s emergency line for assistance locating it.
- Try to find the frozen pipe – Remember that it’s most likely in a basement, crawl space, attic, exterior wall, or under a sink. You will most likely see frost on the outside of the pipe.
- Open the faucets connected to that pipe – This will relieve pressure on the non-frozen portions of the pipe.
- Check for leaks – If you can see that the pipe is cracked or has burst, call a professional plumber immediately.
- Attempt to thaw – If you find the pipe and it is easily accessible, you can try to use a hair dryer or space heater to thaw it. Do not use an open flame.
Call a Qualified Plumber for Frozen Pipe Repair
Although you can sometimes successfully thaw a pipe by yourself, it’s best to call a professional plumber. They will arrive with specialized equipment designed to thaw pipes safely and effectively. They’ll also be able to identify any damage that isn’t immediately apparent. Even if a frozen pipe seems fine, it might have cracked or burst somewhere you can’t see, meaning it will leak once thawed. If the pipe did not burst or leak, it may have been weakened by the pressure of the ice. You should have a plumber examine any pipes that experienced a freeze, to check that they are still sound and not at risk of failure.