One of the biggest home maintenance concerns that occurs frequently in the colder months: Frozen pipes. This dreaded plumbing problem can not only impact your heating system and clean water supply, it can also lead to a host of other far more costly problems if not dealt with properly. That’s why we asked plumbing pros to share how to fix frozen pipes and the low-cost secrets to sidestepping the problem in the first place!
What causes frozen pipes?
“Pipes freeze when temperatures drop below freezing, causing the water inside to solidify,” says Allison Harrison, co-owner at Goodbee Plumbing and Drains. The most common cause of frozen pipes? “When you have poor insulation so that pipes are exposed to cold air outside and in unheated areas of the home inside.”
What are the dangers of frozen pipes?
An even bigger issue: If you don’t take steps to fix a frozen pipe, you could end up with burst pipes which cost an average of $10,250 worth of damage! Other possible issues:
- Water damage: When pipes freeze, the water inside them expands as it turns to ice, which can lead to burst pipes. When the ice thaws, it can result in water leakage, causing damage to walls, ceilings, floors and belongings, explains Harrison.
- Loss of water supply: Frozen pipes can block the flow of water, leading to a loss of water supply to your home until the pipes thaw.
- Expensive repairs: Repairing burst pipes and addressing water damage can be costly, especially if the issue is widespread or if it’s not promptly addressed, explains Harrison.
- Disruption of daily activities: Daily activities from cooking and cleaning to showering and bathing can be disrupted.
- Health risks: In severe cases, frozen pipes can lead to mold growth due to water damage.
- Energy waste: Frozen pipes can also impact heating systems, as they may freeze if the pipes supplying them with water freeze, explains Harrison. “This can lead to increased energy consumption as the heating system works harder to compensate.”
What are the signs you have frozen pipes?
Since burst pipes can result in serious water damage to a home or property, you may wonder what you should be looking for to determine if they’re near frozen. “You can tell if your pipes are starting to freeze if you hear them banging or making a gurgling sound, which is the water solidifying and expanding,” explains plumber Simon Seys of Plumbing Instant Fix. Another clue: “Look at pipes under your bathroom or kitchen sink — if you see condensation on the outside of the pipes, it’s a sign they’re getting too cold.”
You may also notice reduced water flow or no water at all from your faucets, unusual odors or visible frost, adds Harrison. “Other indicators include bulging or cracked pipes, since that may indicate an ice blockage, but that is only in severe cases.”
How to fix frozen pipes: 2 simple ways
If you do find yourself dealing with frozen pipes, don’t fret! “Start by locating the frozen section, often identified by frost or a bulging pipe,” says Matt Kunz, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a Neighborly company.
1. Turn on the faucet
Your go-to solution is actually quite simple once you’ve located the culprit. “The best way to thaw a pipe is to let it thaw naturally,” explains Harrison. “To thaw a frozen pipe safely, open nearby faucets and run warm water to relieve the pressure.”
2. Grab a hair dryer
If turning the faucet on doesn’t work, you may need to help move things along. “Begin the thawing process by applying gentle heat using methods like a hairdryer, heating pad or towels soaked in hot water,” shares Kunz. “Work from the faucet toward the frozen area.”
See how to use a hairdryer in the video below:
The one thing to avoid according to the pros: An open flame or high-heat devices, as they can damage the pipes. Be sure not to use excessive force to get the water thawed and moving again, as well, as you’ll risk puncturing the pipe.
Still no luck? Then it’s time to call a professional.
How to prevent frozen pipes
Dealing with frozen pipes can be rather stressful, even if they don’t end up bursting. To ensure you don’t have to worry about the issue, there are steps you can take to prevent it in the first place.
1. Insulate the pipes. A great place to start: Insulate exposed pipes, says Harrison. This insulation can be found in hardware stores for about 50 cents per foot.
If you can’t find any pipe insulation or want to save even more money, there’s an equally useful alternative you may have right in your garage: A pool noodle! All you have to do is cut the noodle to the length of your pipe, carefully cut a slit lengthwise and slip it over the pipe. (Click through for more surprising uses for pool noodles).
Watch this trick in action in the video below:
2. Let the warmth in. “When temperatures drop below freezing, it’s also recommended to leave cabinet doors open to allow warm air to circulate around the pipes,” adds Harrison.
3. Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses: Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses, and shut off the outdoor water supply if possible, says Harrison. “Store hoses indoors during the winter.”
4. Leave a small drip. “Also, be sure to keep the faucet drip on to keep water moving,” says Harrison. Running water, even at a trickle, can help prevent pipes from freezing.
5. Seal cracks. Consider sealing any noticeable gaps or cracks in your walls or foundation to keep cold air out. This will help make sure your pipes aren’t affected by a temperature drop.
6. Install a smart thermostat: Consider installing a smart thermostat that can monitor indoor temperatures and alert you if they drop to levels that could lead to frozen pipes. Click through to learn more about smart thermostats and how they can also lower your heating bill.)
For more plumbing advice, keep reading!