Emergency Plumbing Repair: Thaw Frozen Pipes the Easy Way, with How-To Video
Ol’ Man Winter is blowing his frosty breath again, and that often means frozen pipes and emergency plumbing situations. If the frozen pipes burst, hundreds of gallons of water could be released into your home, causing all kinds of damage to walls, furniture, floors, carpets, and other belongings. If this happens, you’ll most likely have to call a plumber or plumbing services, which won’t be cheap. Add the cost of hiring a plumber to the expense of replacing or repairing everything damaged when the frozen pipes burst, and you can be looking at a substantial amount of money, especially if the rupture occurs after hours or on the weekend, when the plumber will likely charge extra for emergency plumbing. If you’re alert to frozen pipes, however, you can usually prevent them from bursting. You can do this type of plumbing repair yourself, too. You don’t have to hire a plumber or plumbing services.
Before you can begin to address your emergency plumbing – the frozen pipe – you’ll have to identify which pipe is frozen. If you turn on the faucet and no water comes out, or if only a few drops come out, the pipe is probably frozen. Follow the pipe from the non-working faucet. Look closely at the pipes, and use a flashlight if you need to. The frozen section of a pipe is often covered with a light frost or ice crystals. If you don’t observe any frost or exterior ice, feel the pipe. The frozen section will be much colder. Because water in the pipes expands as it freezes, the affected pipe might also have a bulge in it. The bulge might be slight, so you need to look very closely. If you don’t see any damage, feel for cracks. If you find any, the pipe will have to be repaired. Start looking for the frozen section of the pipe in the most likely places first – cold spots like outside walls and unheated areas.
If the frozen pipe is located in an outside wall, you can often thaw it without having to tear out the sheetrock or paneling. Simply turn the heat in your home to a higher setting and wait. Leave the faucet in the “on” position so that you’ll know when the water begins flowing again. To speed up the process, aim a heat lamp, a space heater, or an infrared heat lamp at the section of wall that’s housing the frozen pipe.
If the frozen pipe is located outside your home, or if it’s otherwise exposed, don’t turn off the water supply to your home before you begin thawing the frozen pipe. Also, you need to start the thawing process from the tap back to the frozen section. If you begin thawing behind the ice, the water that’s released will have nowhere to go because it will still be blocked by ice in the frozen pipe.
Heat the pipe with a heat lamp, an infrared lamp, a heater, a blow dryer, or heated wet cloths. If the exposed pipe is located near a wall or other surface, you can use aluminum foil or a highly reflective cookie sheet to direct more heat to the pipe. On metal pipes, many homeowners use a torch to melt the ice, although this method isn't recommended. If you choose to use a torch, however, use a flame diffuser, and keep the torch moving. Be very careful, too, about setting your house on fire! No matter which method you use for thawing pipes, do it slowly. If you thaw too quickly, you can damage the pipes.
A neat gadget that you might want to consider purchasing is heat tape or pipe heating cable. This is a wrap that contains electrical wires. When plugged into an outlet, the wires heat up and subsequently warm the frozen pipe. If frozen pipes are a recurring problem at your house, heating cable would be a wise investment. If you know a hard freeze is in the weather forecast, you can also use the heating cable as a preventive measure.
Don’t let your frozen pipes turn into an emergency plumbing event. Preventing a rupture is a lot less expensive and messy than a burst pipe that will require professional plumbing repair. If you can get by without calling a plumber or plumbing services, you’ll be way ahead of the game!
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