Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Dot2.
In winter, the risk of frozen pipes increases considerably.
The good news is that in many cases you can thaw them yourself quite easily.
In this guide, we’ll cover how to tell if your pipes are frozen and what to do if they are.
How to tell if a pipe is frozen
Let’s start by looking at the clues that will tell you if your pipes are frozen. Here are the six main signs:
- Little or no water coming out of taps
- Gurgling sounds when you turn on the faucets or flush the toilet
- Unpleasant odors coming from the sewers
- Low water pressure
- Pipes are cold to the touch or covered in ice
- Curved pipes
Thawing a Frozen Pipe
Now that you’ve determined that your pipes are indeed frozen, let’s see how to fix the problem.
Cut the water to the network
Before you begin to thaw your frozen pipes, always shut off the water supply. In this way, if the pipe burst or cracked somewhere along the line, you’ll minimize the risk of pressure buildup, as well as potential flooding.
Keep the faucets open
This will allow water to flow out of the pipe when the ice begins to melt and also releases the pressure inside the pipes.
Thaw Exposed Pipes
If the frozen pipe is easily accessible, for example in the kitchen or bathroom, there are several easy ways to thaw it. The easiest method is to use a hair dryer.
Start by thawing the pipe from the section closest to the faucet, then gradually work your way up the pipe until it is completely thawed. If the pipe is PVC, avoid applying direct heat for too long, as this may damage the pipe.
As an alternative to the hair dryer, you can also use electrical heating tape wrapped in a spiral around the pipe. For metal pipes, you can also use a handheld heat gun.
Applying hot towels to frozen pipes also works and can also be used on larger items, such as toilet bowls or toilet cisterns in which water has frozen.
Avoid using a torch, propane heater or any open flame for thawing. The risk of damaging the hose or even starting a fire is not worth it.
Unfreeze pipes inside walls
If you’ve thawed exposed pipes but you’re still not getting running water, chances are the pipes are frozen inside the wall.
In this case, start by increasing the temperature in your home for a few hours until the blockage is gone. To facilitate the circulation of warm air to the walls, leave the doors of cabinets and cupboards open.
You can also use an infrared lamp or a fan heater aimed at the wall to speed things up.
When thawing pipes, it is always best to work slowly and gradually. Sudden temperature changes can cause pressure to build up in the pipe as the ice melts, increasing the risk of a burst.
Know when to call a plumber
Thawing a frozen pipe is quite simple. DIY work. But if you suspect the pipe has been frozen for a long time, say more than a week, it may be worth contacting a local plumber.
This is because the longer a pipe stays frozen, the more pressure builds up until the pipe bursts. Also, if you notice any leaks after thawing the pipes, it’s possible they’ve already burst.
If this happens, turn off the water supply and contact a plumber as soon as possible.
You should also consider calling a plumber if frozen pipes are difficult to access. To some extent, you can try to unfreeze closed pipes yourself. But if it looks like you’ll have to cut out a section of the wall to gain access, hiring a professional is the best solution.
Do the pipes always burst if they freeze?
Just because a pipe has frozen doesn’t necessarily mean it will burst. It should be borne in mind that it is not the ice itself that causes the pipes to burst, but the pressure that builds up inside them.
Also, not all pipes have the same risk of bursting if they freeze, with PVC and copper pipes being more likely to burst than PEX pipes, for example.
However, the risk exists regardless of the piping material used, which is why it is always best to avoid coming to this scenario.
Insulating the house and pipes, maintaining a consistent indoor temperature, and turning off the water supply when you’re away for long periods of time are just some of the things you can do to protect your pipes in winter.
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