A common plumbing fear in cold climates is frozen pipes. When pipes freeze, they change their material quality and can easily crack or burst. If you notice that water is not flowing or has a very slow trickle when turned on, the plumbing culprit could be frozen pipes. The steps you will take to resolve the situation depend on the severity of the freeze and subsequent damage. To help prevent frozen pipes, you can leave a trickle of water in problem areas. If you ever feel like the issue is more than can be managed by a nonprofessional, call a plumber and get assistance with the issue.
Step 1. Find the Frozen Pipe(s)
The problem cannot be fixed if it is not located. Therefore, the very first task is to locate which pipes are frozen. To do this, turn on every faucet in the house. Check to see which are running and which are not. Whichever one is not running has a frozen pipe.
If you cannot easily locate which problem, start with the areas of your residence where freezing is most likely. These include pipes in areas that are not insulated, next to cold surfaces, or leading to the outside.
Step 2. Turn off the Water
Make sure to turn the water off to the affected area. If the water is not turned off, it can cause expensive repairs when the pipes begin to thaw.
Step 3. Inspection
It is imperative that you inspect the pipes to see if there are any cracks. These can occur because frozen water induces pressure changes within the system. Due to the fact that water will not be flowing through the pipes, you will need to look very closely to see if you spot a leak. To look in hard to reach spaces, use a flashlight or a mirror.
Step 4. Dethaw the Pipe
If the frozen pipe is limited to a contained and accessible area, it can be dethawed with a hair dryer or thermostatically controlled heat tape. If you use a hairdryer, make sure to constantly move it on the pipe. A lot of different pipe materials can be damaged by excessive direct heat. Check the water flow occasionally to see if it is flowing. If you use heat tape, make sure that you can plug it into an outlet so that it can heat properly.
If the frozen pipe is inside the wall, find an appliance that can blow hot air into a nearby vent. Make sure to maximize airflow into the vent.
Step 5. Add Salt to Drains
If you notice that a drain is frozen, it can help to add salt down the drain. Just like salt helps melt snow and ice, it can liquefy the frozen water in your pipes. You can use boiling water with the salt, but be careful not to exceed the temperature that your pipes can withstand.
Step 6. Cut Hole in Wall (Last Resort!)
If the frozen pipe is inside a wall and there is no easy access, it may be necessary to cut a hole in the wall. Make sure to locate where the pipe is and use a keyhole saw to cut a circular hole. Then use one of the above strategies to thaw the pipe.
If, after trying all of the above steps, you are unable to unfreeze the pipe, it is time to call for assistance and locate a plumber. While this can seem like a costly expense, it is much more economical to get help before the pipe cracks or bursts and causes an unneeded flood in your residence.