What to Do if Your Pipes Freeze

what to do if your pipes freeze

Having frozen pipes can be VERY dangerous. If this ever happens to you, make sure that it NEVER happens again. Why is it so dangerous? Well, it’s not really life threatening or anything like that. BUT, the resulting conditions can be very damaging.

You see, water is always present in the pipes. And when the water freezes during very cold weather such as in wintertime, the frozen water will expand and put pressure on the pipes. This holds true for pipes that are made of metal or plastic.

The pressure from the frozen water will then push against the walls of the pipes and cause breakage. In fact, nearby valves and faucets can also get damaged. Can you imagine how much it will cost to repair all those damaged pipes?

When pipes burst, water can leak and cause other damages inside your house too. Your house can get flooded; and who knows how much the extent of water damage can do to your home. And that’s why it’s dangerous to have frozen pipes. Well, we found out about frozen pipes the hard way – we experienced it ourselves. One time we noticed the bathtub water in the guest bathroom was not draining and discovered the pipes were frozen. The pipes go into the garage (where it’s cold) and run along the exterior walls. So when a cold 24 degrees Celsius day hit our place, bam! – the pipes froze.

Fortunately, we were able to thaw the frozen pipes without any damage. Otherwise, it would have been a nightmare. Still, we did everything we can from then on so that we’ll never have to worry about frozen pipes again.

Read on and find out everything about frozen pipe remedies and solutions – immediate, temporary, permanent, and everything else in between.

When Your Pipes Freeze – It’s Time to Thaw!

There’s only one thing to do when your pipes freeze – you need to thaw the pipes as soon as possible. Aside from the possible damage that frozen pipes are exposed to, you also need a source of water supply. As long as your pipes are frozen, there’s no way for water to flow from the pipes to your faucets.

Below, you will find some options and methods for thawing frozen pipes.

  • Use Electric Heat Tape – You can use electric heat tape on your frozen pipes to thaw the frozen water inside. This is actually a good and efficient procedure when thawing frozen pipes because it involves a slow method of melting ice. That would minimize the wear and tear of pipes. When employing this method, make sure that the faucets where the pipes lead to are open. The reason for this is that steam and vapor can be produced when the ice starts to melt. And if the steam is trapped inside the pipes, these could burst open so as to let the vapor escape. Another thing to remember when using electric heat tape is to be careful not to run the tape back over itself. This can result in overheating and fire.
  • Use of Cloth and Towels – You can wrap cloths and towels on frozen pipes when attempting to thaw frozen water inside. Pour hot water over these to apply hot compress on the pipes. Repeat the process until the pipes are unfrozen. When performing this task, remember to open the faucet connected to the pipes that you’re working on. Remember, the thawing process involves the production of vapor and steam. An escape route is needed to avoid having ruptured pipes.
  • Use Heat Lamp or Portable Space Heater – A direct heat lamp or portable space heater can be positioned about 1 foot away from frozen pipes in order to thaw the ice. For this procedure, it would be necessary to cover the surrounding areas with an aluminum foil so as to prevent scorching incidents. Because heat lamps, space heaters, and other similar devices are electrically powered, make sure that the ground is dry while setting these gadgets up. Moreover, don’t use this method if there are gas pipes in the vicinity. Other materials that shouldn’t be used for this method include a blowtorch, propane or kerosene heater, charcoal stove, and any open-flame device. And again, don’t forget to open the faucet when using this thawing method.
  • Use a Hair Dryer – A hand-held hair dryer definitely sounds safer than a blowtorch, doesn’t it? And it is. Just hold onto the hair dryer (set in warm or hot setting) and run the hot air up and down the length of the frozen pipes to begin thawing the ice. Aside from remembering to keep the faucet open, keep in mind that you should also be standing on dry ground while performing this task. You are, after all, holding on to an electrical device. Being close to water puts you at risk of electrocution.

One final word about keeping the faucet open while thawing and treating frozen pipes. Doing so is a precautionary measure for releasing steam and vapor when melting ice. Moreover, it will also speed up the process of thawing as the presence of running water inside the pipes can help in quickly melting the ice.

Why Pipes Freeze

If this is the first time you experienced having frozen pipes, you’re probably asking why it happened to you. No, it’s not because you’re a bad person; it has nothing to do with that (LOL).

Having frozen pipes is a natural occurrence when the pipes are exposed to very cold condition for a long time – such as during winter. Here are the areas that are more prone to frozen pipe problems.

  • Water sprinkler lines
  • Swimming pool supply lines
  • Water supply lines in unheated areas inside the house (crawlspaces, basement, attics, etc.)
  • Pipes that run on exterior walls (yeah, like our case)

Preventing Frozen Pipes

If you are living in a place where it’s snowing at least once a year, you’re really lucky because snow is really beautiful. However, cold winter months can cause problems like frozen pipes, which are not very pleasant.

If you’re expecting cold weather season anytime soon, do the necessary steps in preventing frozen pipes early on. Here are some tips to prepare for it.

  • Drain Water from Outdoor Pipe Lines – Draining water from swimming pool and water sprinkler lines will remove the presence of water in the pipe lines. Without water, there will only be minimal buildup of ice inside pipe lines (usually from small amounts of vapor). We don’t really recommend using antifreeze solutions as these have been found to be poisonous. Not only are antifreeze components harmful to the environment, these are actually toxic to humans, pets, and other animals too.
  • Pack Up the Hose – Remove and drain outdoor hoses for storage when it’s wintertime. Since you won’t be using the hose for a while, shut down the inside valves that supply water to outdoor hose bibs. Open the hose bibs to drain the pipe line.
  • Insulate Unheated Areas – Insulating water supply lines in unheated areas of the house will help prevent the occurrence of frozen pipes. There are different ways of insulating water pipe lines, and some methods can even be difficult and expensive. But this is the most effective method for preventing frozen pipes. We’ll tackle this more later.
  • Keep Garage Doors Closed – Based on our experience, it makes some difference to keep the garage doors closed if there are pipe lines running through the garage. Of course this is only effective if the weather is not that cold.
  • Open the Faucet – This is perhaps the easiest (but one of the most effective) method of preventing frozen pipes. By allowing water to drip from your faucets which are served by exposed pipe lines, freezing up can be avoided. Yes, even if water is just trickling from your faucets, water is kept running inside the pipes. Of course, you can expect higher water bills too; but it’s way better than having busted pipes. So consider this as a temporary but quick solution to frozen pipe problems.

Permanent Solutions to Frozen Pipes

Of course, a permanent solution is more practical than a temporary solution especially when dealing with frozen pipes. It can be costly to constantly prepare and set up temporary measures just so your water pipes won’t get frozen in the present year. Can you really do it again and again? That can be quite stressful.

Here ye, hear ye! We now present you with some permanent solutions to frozen pipes.

Permanent Solution #1 – Relocate Exposed Pipes

If you have the same case as ours (remember our exterior wall pipes?) it would be wise to relocate those to unexposed areas in your house plan. This can be a bit complicated, so we recommend hiring a professional contractor for this job. We did, and we never had frozen pipe problems again.

Of course, we also employed other methods of permanent solutions to frozen pipes. We really don’t want to risk having broken pipes and water damage inside the house. No, no, no…

Permanent Solution #2 – Insulate Pipes

Insulating water pipes actually has a lot of benefits. For cold water pipes, insulation will help prevent freezing during the cold months. And for hot water pipes, insulation will prevent loss of heat, thereby giving you savings on your energy bills.

Here are the steps involved in insulating water pipes:

  • Clean the Pipes – Use a rag soaked in mild cleanser (you can also use dishwashing detergent) to remove dirt and grime from the surfaces of pipes. Allow the pipe lines to dry before proceeding to the next step.
  • Choose Insulation – Basically, you can choose from 2 types of insulation materials. You can use fiberglass or foil to wrap around pipes. A half an inch overlap is recommended.
  • Cover the Pipes Completely – Make sure that the entire length and surfaces of the pipes are completely covered. Also, secure the ends of the insulation materials with duct tape. Duct tape is also useful in securing the wrapping around bends and corners. If you’re using fiberglass, wrap this first in plastic before wrapping the pipes. This will keep the pipes from dripping water due to condensation.
  • Consider Using Tubular Sleeve – This is another method of insulation. It comes in a variety of sizes to fit different sizes of pipes and it’s very easy to install too. Just cut the sleeve length and wrap the tubing around the pipes. More sleeves might be needed for long pipes; and if this is the case, use duct tape to seam the areas where the tubes meet.

Permanent Solution #3 – Add Vapor Barrier

Vapor barrier, also known as vapor retarder and moisture barrier, is comprised of a continuous sheet of waterproof materials. It comes in a layer of transparent plastic; and this is installed on the warm side of the wall.

Installing a vapor barrier indoors helps keep warm air from escaping. Moreover, it prevents the formation of moisture and vapor from condensation. Note that moisture and vapor are water elements, and these can therefore freeze. So if you have pipes running along the walls of your house, adding a vapor barrier provides for another permanent solution to having frozen pipes come winter season. How to Install Vapor Barrier Installing a vapor barrier is quite easy. But first of all, you need to buy the necessary materials for the task at hand.

You can buy vapor barriers at different sizes and thickness, so measure your wall before buying. The standard recommended thickness for the project is “6-mil.”

Keep in mind that the barrier needs to be installed continuously along the walls. And if pieces needed to be joined together, a specialty tape should be used to seal the edges effectively.

Note, too, that vapor barriers need to be airtight. So, uneven surfaces and corners should be applied with acoustic sealant.

While vapor barriers made of polyethylene materials are good and effective, you can look at those that are made of foil too. Vapor barriers made of foil are more expensive than those made of polyethylene, but they come with added insulation properties.

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