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What to Do When Your Pipes Freeze

by VitalStorm Content on February 16, 2018

As far north as we are, we hear the warnings to winter-proof our plumbing every year. When a cold snap blows through, we’re told to leave faucets dripping—especially those along exterior walls in the home—to avoid frozen pipes.

But what happens if you don’t? Maybe you left town and have returned to discover your water faucet is frozen solid. Before you get started, turn on the heater and get the place warmed up. Take a minute to consider giving a local plumbing professional a call. Even if none of your pipes have burst already, there’s still a chance things could get messy.

If you’ve opted to move ahead solo, but don’t know where your home’s main water valve is located, go find it.

Find the Freeze

You’ll first need to find the frozen pipe (or pipes). Start by turning on each faucet in the house, noting which don’t work. To be safe, leave them all—working or not—open a little to relieve pressure as things thaw out.

It’s not common to have several frozen pipes throughout your plumbing system. Of course, the most susceptible pipes are those closest to the exterior of the house.

While you’re testing each faucet, keep an eye peeled for any sign of water leak. It’s possible that the expanding ice in a pipe has cracked or burst the pipe already. If you discover a leak, immediately close your water main valve to prevent further damage.

Thaw, Patiently

It’s important to open up faucets as they thaw out. As things loosen up, this will allow water, gas and ice pieces to exit the pipe, relieving pressure. With that in mind, start at the faucet and work your way down.

Use a blow dryer or space heater to gently apply heat to the pipe. You can also open cabinet doors and let the heater do its work. Don’t apply an open flame or torch to the pipe. A flame could damage the pipe directly, and if thawed too quickly, steam and pressure could result in a burst pipe.

Challenges

It’s relatively easy to thaw pipes for small faucets, but if you’re house and its plumbing are thoroughly frozen, you probably don’t have access to your most central frozen pipes.

In these cases, you can start by being patient. Let the heater warm the house. Open any cabinet drawers or closet doors to allow the heat to work its way into the house. Crawl spaces under the house floorboard or beneath stairs are good places to set up space heaters, if you have them. This type of thawing can take much longer, but remember to leave the valves open to relieve any pressure buildup during the thawing process.

In the worst scenarios you may have to rely on more dramatic measures to thaw pipes. This might include cutting holes in walls or floor panels. If you’ve reached this step, consider calling your local technicians. To minimize damage, a plumber can help you pick the most strategic spots to get your water flowing again.

Curb the Cold

Frozen pipes can typically be thawed safely, but its safest to avoid the situation in the first place. We know, life happens, so you won’t hear us saying “I told you so”. Still, its never too late to winter-proof your home, adding insulation to exposed pipes and covers for outdoor spigots, among other measures.  Whether you’re trying to thaw your pipes or prevent them from freezing, give Blue Flame Heating & Air Conditioning a call at 206-388-5667. Our professional technicians can help you thaw out your plumbing, or winter proof your setup to keep things running smoothly.