Air pipes

How to Safely Thaw Frozen Pipes

Frozen pipes aren’t just a drawback; they can lead to significant water damage and expensive plumbing repairs. While frozen pipes can easily occur in older homes and drafty, unusually cold weather can also cause your new home’s pipes to freeze for the first time.

Knowing how to properly thaw frozen pipes can help prevent resulting damage. Brahm Trim, plumber at The Gentlemen Pros, and Mark Snell, CEO of Polestar Plumbing, share their expert advice on how best to deal with frozen pipes.

How to know when the pipes are frozen

A shower head with almost no water flowing

If you suddenly have low water pressure or if the water stops flowing, you may have a frozen pipe.

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There are several factors that can cause the pipes in your home to freeze. If the temperatures in the areas where the pipes are installed drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it is possible that the water in the pipes will start to freeze. A lack of insulation or a thermostat set too low can also cause pipes to freeze.

According to Trim, if your pipes are frozen, you will likely notice that you have no water or very little water pressure. “If you have very little pressure, keep your faucet on,” recommends Trim. “If there is a little water going through, it will help thaw the line and restore the flow.”

To determine which pipes are frozen, you will need to trace the pipes from the faucets where you are getting little or no water. You can also look for other signs. Snell explains that you may be able to see ice on the outside of your pipes, but this is only useful if the pipes are not concealed in a wall. Snell notes that you can also look for signs of a water leak, which may indicate that a frozen pipe has burst.

How to thaw frozen pipes

When the problems get too big for home remedies, it’s always best to call a plumber to help you. But depending on where your pipes are and how frozen they are, you may be able to thaw them yourself.

No matter where your pipes are, it is important to thaw them gradually, as rapid heating can cause pipes to burst. The exact measurements you take will depend on whether the pipes are exposed or concealed in the wall or ceiling.

Thaw exposed pipes

Pipes exposed in a crawl space

Exposed pipes are easier to thaw.

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Your exposed pipes will often be in your kitchen cabinets, in your bathroom vanity, in your attic or in your basement. Since these areas tend to be cooler and less insulated, these pipes are often the first to freeze.

You can use a variety of tools to thaw exposed pipes:

  • Hair dryer: Use a hair dryer to gradually warm the length of the hose. Be sure to move the hair dryer up and down the hose so that you don’t concentrate too much heat in one area, which could cause the hose to crack. This method takes time and effort, but can be effective.
  • Heating appliance: Placing a radiator near the frozen pipe can help thaw it out, but focus on providing progressive hot heat, not direct hot heat. A heater can be effective when you have a pipe in a smaller enclosed space that is easily heated. Be sure to follow all heater safety precautions and keep a close eye on the process.
  • Heating tape: Electric heating tape (sometimes referred to as a heating cable) is designed to be wrapped around frozen pipes, and then provides continuous low heat. Heating tape can be very effective and is ideal when you have a long run of frozen pipes. It can also be used as a preventive measure for pipes prone to freezing.
  • Thermostat: Although this is a less acute solution, slightly frozen pipes can benefit from a higher overall temperature in the home. Keep the room with the pipe warmer frozen and open cabinets or doors to let hot air flow through the pipe.

Thawing pipes in the wall or ceiling

Close-up of a smart Nest thermostat programmed to heat to 74 degrees

Sometimes it’s a simple fix to keep the house warmer.

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Thawing pipes in your wall or ceiling can be a bit more difficult. Trim encourages you to try to identify why the pipes are freezing. If the pipes are touching a frozen exterior wall, or if there is an opening to the outside that is creating a draft, resolving these issues can help you thaw the pipes.

  • Thermostat: Turning up the heat in your home can affect your walls and ceilings. This method can be effective, but it can also take hours or days to work.
  • Heating appliance: If there are vents in the wall or ceiling near the frozen pipe, you may be able to place a radiator with a fan near these vents. The heater can blow hot air into the space, gradually warming the pipe. Whether or not it works will depend on where the hose is frozen, where the vets are, and the size of the space.
  • Expose the pipe. In some circumstances, you may need to drill a hole in the drywall or ceiling. With a hole created, you can direct hot air from the radiator to the frozen pipe or try one of the methods above to thaw the exposed pipe.

How to prevent water pipes from freezing

To prevent pipes from freezing in the future, focus on ways to keep them warm:

  • Add insulation to exposed pipes.
  • Keep your house warmer in winter.
  • Identify and correct areas where there are drafts.
  • Add insulation to your walls and ceilings.

Insider’s takeaway

If you have frozen pipes in your home, it may be tempting to try and warm them up as quickly as possible, but doing so could cause them to burst. Instead, use tools like a hair dryer, heater, and even your home’s thermostat to gradually heat up the pipes. If you think the work is too important for you, or if your pipes are bursting, call a plumber for additional help.