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How to Prevent and Fix Unseen Damage from Frozen Pipes

By Teri Dormer

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Even if you don’t live in a part of the country that expects to see snow flurries or icy roads, if the temperature outside gets cold enough, you might have to deal with the nightmare that is frozen pipes.

If you don’t already know how to unfreeze pipes, or if frozen pipes will thaw on their own, this piece is for you. From thawing frozen pipes to keeping them from freezing in the first place, we’ll help you avoid this winter disaster before it strikes!

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

The easiest way to thaw your frozen pipes is simple; don’t let them get that way in the first place. Sure, it might be cheating just a bit, but these preventative tips will help ensure you don’t have to worry about unfreezing your home’s water flow in the first place.

As a reminder, don’t wait for signs of snow or sleet to assume your pipes might be in danger of freezing over. As nighttime temperatures drop, still water can freeze, even if you don’t experience major frost or snow in your area.

There’s a maze of pipework throughout your home, but these locations are typically the most likely to experience freezing temperatures and thus to solidify standing water and damage water flow.

  1. Anything connected to the outside walls. This can include your swimming pool supply pipes, water sprinklers, and outdoor hose spouts. 
  2. Pipes located inside your home that aren’t exposed to constant heating. This can include pipes that run through the basement, attic, garage, crawl spaces, and even your kitchen cabinets. 
  3. Pipes that aren’t supported with major insulation. This can include any pipes running along the exterior walls of your home.

Outdoor Pipes

You probably won’t be going for a swim in the winter months, so make sure to drain the excess water from your swimming pool (or water sprinkler lines) as a prevention measure. Only utilize antifreeze for these pipes if you’ve been instructed to do so by the manufacturer.

Keep all of your outdoor water valves open so water can move freely through them without getting stuck and having a chance to freeze over.

Indoor Pipes Without Heating

Throughout your home, there are likely pockets of unheated space you don’t utilize. For pipes in your attic, basement, or garage, add extra insulation around the existing pipes to help hold as much heat as possible inside.

What Happens When Frozen Pipes Burst?

If you don’t prepare for frozen pipes appropriately, or you have a sudden draft of cold weather unexpectedly, your frozen pipes may burst. 

If you attempt to turn on the faucet and nothing happens, there’s a high likelihood that you have frozen pipes. If your water meter shows movement, but you aren’t seeing water flow, it’s more likely that a pipe has burst. If you’re concerned your pipes have burst, here are some key indicators you should look for right away: 

  1. Start by inspecting the areas of your home without heat. Look for signs of leaks or pooled water in your basement, crawl spaces, or garage. 
  2. Check other areas in the interior of your home. Inspect the bathroom, kitchen, laundry space, and any rooms adjacent to these areas for dripping water or other signs of leaks. You may also want to consider rings on the ceiling, damp drywall, or weird bubbling on the walls or ceiling. 
  3. Inspect your exposed and outdoor pipes. A frozen or burst pipe might be physically bulging, and a burst pipe may also show frost or condensation as a sign that it’s been damaged. 

Avoid Thawing Frozen Pipes

If there’s ever a time to let the water run, it’s on those cold winter nights. Wherever you have running water, let your faucet drip overnight so the running water helps keep your pipes from freezing over.

For pipes not attached to a faucet, you can wrap the pipe with electrical heat tape, open the cabinet doors so heat can access the pipes, add foam insulation to unheated areas, or consider adding a permanent heater to areas of the home your furnace doesn’t currently penetrate. 

How to Unfreeze Pipes

If your pipes are frozen, you may have an opportunity to thaw frozen pipes without having the call in the professionals. You can read more about the ways to repair your frozen pipes here, but you won’t have as many options if you believe the pipe has burst.

If you wake up one morning to discover your efforts have been in vain, the first step to thawing out your pipes is to turn the water off. You might expect running water to help alleviate the blockage, but it’s more likely that you’ll crack or damage the pipes instead. 

Once the water has been turned off, your next step is to warm up the air around your pipes. Depending on their location, you have a number of household items you can utilize in this task: a hairdryer, buckets of hot water or a heat lamp.

If your frozen pipes aren’t exposed or accessible, you may have to invest in professional help or an infrared lamp to heat the space around the pipes through your walls without being able to reach the pipes directly. 

As the pipes begin to thaw, carefully turn the water back on and begin to look for cracks or leakage along the affected areas. 

Will Frozen Pipes Thaw on Their Own?

Eventually, your pipes will thaw on their own, but it isn’t advised to wait them out. If the weather stays cold (as it often does), your pipes could take days or weeks to fully defrost, at which point the ice may have caused irreversible damage. 

Before you start worrying about what you’ll do when your pipes freeze over, consider taking these prevention steps into account. With the right aid in place, your pipes should be set to weather the winter months all in one piece.