How to Thaw Frozen Water Pipes

You plan to wash a load of clothes on one of the coldest days of winter, when much to your surprise your washing machine won’t fill. More than likely, your washing machine isn’t broken. When temperatures drop below freezing, vulnerable water pipes in outer walls can freeze. Even water pipes in well-insulated homes can freeze if they aren’t properly protected.

If your water isn’t flowing and pipes seem to be frozen, don’t panic. It isn’t very difficult to locate a frozen section of piping, and there are safe and easy ways to thaw them. There are also easy ways to prevent frozen pipes in the future.

Locating Frozen Pipes

If you’ve discovered that a faucet in your home isn’t running, check other faucets. If none of them work, the source of the problem is probably at the meter. Feel the piping near the meter, and if a particular section feels extremely cold, this is probably the location of the blockage.

If other faucets in your home are working, a pipe in an exterior wall is probably the source of the blockage. If you have a crawlspace that isn’t sufficiently insulated, the frozen pipe could be located in this area. Check piping where it emerges from exterior walls, and chances are you’ll locate the source of the obstruction.

Important Steps Before Thawing

Steam with nowhere to go could force pipes to burst, so be sure to take the following precautionary steps before attempting to thaw frozen pipes.

First of all, never try to thaw frozen pipes with torches, boiling water, or by any other means using extreme heat or flame. If heated too quickly waterlines can explode and cause serious injuries.

Before trying to thaw frozen piping, locate and turn off the main water valve so water doesn’t suddenly surge through the lines once the obstruction has thawed. In addition, open taps linked to the pipes so steam can safely escape during the thawing process.

Thawing Frozen Pipes

If a small amount of water still runs through the pipe, thawing it won’t be that difficult. Fully open the faucet connected to the partially frozen line. Turn on hot water faucets throughout the house, just enough to produce a steady trickle. The hot water pipes will heat nearby frozen lines and eventually thaw the blockage.

If you’re able to locate an area of piping that’s frozen solid, heat the pipe with a handheld hairdryer. Keep in mind that if your skin can tolerate the heat, it’s a safe temperature for the line.

If you don’t know the exact location of the obstruction, heat the line from the affected tap outward until the blockage has thawed. The thawing process may take several minutes.

You can also help thaw frozen pipes by opening all cabinets containing water lines. Turn up the heat in your home, and the lines will eventually heat to the point of thawing.

Frozen Pipe Prevention

To prevent a continual problem with frozen water lines, wrap problem pipes with electrical heat tape. Electrical heat tape is controlled with a thermostat, and when temperatures dip to freezing, it automatically warms vulnerable pipes.

For those who plan to leave for an extended period of time over the winter, pipes can be drained to avoid damage caused by freezing temperatures. Contact a licensed plumber to drain the plumbing system throughout your home.

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