Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Thaw a Frozen Water Pipe

We just got our first close-to-freezing weather here in South Texas and I expect it to get even colder tonight. Judging by some of the online questions I’ve answered today, it’s the same all over. A large percentage of the questions are about one topic – thawing frozen water pipes.

There are a lot of misconceptions floating around in cyberspace. One woman is getting cold water in her bathroom but not a drip out of the hot side. She had thought that only the cold side could freeze. The fact of the matter is that ol’ Jack Frost could care less what kind of water the pipe carries – when it’s not running.

What it boiled down to (no pun intended) is that the hot water line was in an exterior wall in an un-insulated older home.

Locate the Frozen Water Pipe

So what do you do if you find yourself in this situation? The first thing to do is find the frozen section. Look for the section between the point of origin and where the tap won’t flow. The most obvious section will be the most exposed section.

Look in attics, crawl spaces, or in the case of the woman above, a wall.

Thaw the Frozen Water Pipe

Thawing a frozen water pipe is not going to be the most pleasant of chores, but it’s important to attack it right away. Procrastination raises the chance of a burst pipe as the ice expands.

Then you’ve really got trouble!

There are several ways to thaw your frozen water pipe. Use any or all of them, whichever works best in your particular situation.

  • Get a space heater in there; it will help thaw the pipe and keep you from freezing at the same time.
  • Use a hair dryer or heat gun. Just remember to keep the thing moving. Spread the joy.
  • Cover the pipe with hot-water soaked towels. The trick with this method is to keep changing them out.
  • Use an electric heating pad. Much better than the aforementioned towel trick.Keep the tap open. As soon as water starts flowing, it will thaw from the inside as you work from the outside.

Prevent Future Frozen Water Pipes

Four words here: install insulation, insulation, insulation. The more you can do to keep the elements away from the pipes, the better. Other options are UL-listed "heat tape," and "heat cable".

Hopefully you won’t need these tips, but if you do, brew some coffee and get on task!

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