Educate me on frozen pipes and the management thereof

I’m relatively new to this home ownership thing. And the home in question is an area currently dealing with the very cold weather that’s all over the news. The water to my 2 bathrooms and kitchen is still flowing but the pipe to my utility room is apparently frozen as I discovered when I tried to do laundry today. The temperature outside isn’t projected to get above freezing for the next week.

Is it likely that I can thaw the frozen pipe while the outside temp remains so low? My house does not have a basement or crawlspace to allow easy access to pipes. I’ve placed a space heater in the utility room but I don’t know how much good that’s doing at this point.

I’m aware that frozen pipes can crack. Once the pipe has thawed what do I do to make sure there’s no damage in places where I can’t see it? Hire a plumber for some sort of inspection? Wait and see if water starts soaking though the wall?

I’m also in Missouri, and I don’t know either. Yesterday I spent a while under my house trying to thaw a pipe (that I had believed I had left trickling), before giving up because I don’t know where the frozen part is. I figure I’ll find out the hard way how bad the damage is. :frowning:

Be aware of which pipes in your house are routed through exterior and interior walls, the ones through interior walls are far less likely to freeze. At night when it’s coldest I’ll keep a pair of sink traps in each room dripping very slowly if I fear they’ll freeze. I usually do this in a tub where I can place a bucket so I can at least use some of that water later to flush a toilet.

Do you have a leak? Look at your water meter. If everything that uses water is shut down the meter shouldn’t be moving. Take note of the meter reading and come back in a half an hour or so and assuming no one flushed a toilet or something the meter reading shouldn’t have changed.

I don’t know enough about slab houses, but I’d suggest getting those pipes thawed ASAP. Get a blow dryer on them if you have one. If not a blow torch will work just fine. Keep it moving and keep it away from soldered joints. Keep a nearby faucet open while doing this. If you don’t have either of these, get a lamp with and high wattage light bulb near it to generate some heat.

If you suspect it’s already burst, shut off the water coming in to your house first. Also, don’t run your hand along the length of the pipe looking for a blowout, it’s a cut way to cut yourself. They tend to tear parallel to the pipe.

If your meter buried out on front lawn, you may want to look into getting a key to turn it off at night and drain some of the water out of the pipes leading from there to the house. Without knowing how your house is laid out, I have no idea if that’s feasible. Without knowing the layout of your house/plumbing I also couldn’t tell you if [self regulating] heat tape and insulation would help if put in just the right places.

You might also get lucky and just be able to stick a lamp in one trouble spot for a few weeks out of the year and be done with it.

Also, if this utility room has a door, keep it open. I assume there’s no AC/heat vent in there. If it’s on a poorly insulated exterior wall it might just be getting cold in there. If you open the door it’ll warm up and that may help. If that’s the case, when you have time look into insulating it (keeping the pipe on the interior side) and adding a vent to the room.

Don’t listen to Joey P.

I read up on this recently. I would *not *use a torch on the pipes. Thermal stress like that is going to just do more damage.

What I would do is open the taps a trickle. All your taps. It’s not the stress from the expanding ice that bursts the pipes, pipes are immensely strong longitudinally. It’s when you have a very large frozen section that expands lengthwise, it raises the water pressure. It can’t raise the water pressure on the side towards the water main, because the excess water will just get pushed back into the main. But it *can *raise the pressure on the side of the ice blockage where a fixture is, to the point that the pipes or a fitting blow from overpressure.

Even a trickle stops the high pressure water from building up. It doesn’t stop the pipes from freezing, just prevents plumbing damage when they do freeze. The way you stop pipes from freezing is you identify the vulnerable pipes, insulate them, and/or wrap them in special electric heaters that kick in when the temperature is low.

Source :

Joey P’s advice to use a torch can be fatal - don’t do it. If you boil water in a clogged pipe, it can turn into a pipe bomb. Use something cooler, like pouring boiling water on the frozen pipes.

Agreed with the previous two posts – even if it seems ‘frozen’ you might be able to avert the worst damage if you just make sure that it’s not frozen badly for too long. The frozen section will continue to expand and push outward on the exposed pipe. There are also some sections that are more vulnerable than others, depending on things like exposure, age of the pipe, quality of the pipe, and so forth. Just make the water trickle. I would NOT use a torch or anything to artificially heat the frozen pipes - that will cause metal fatigue.

So don’t use a torch, however, the rest of my advice is sound.

Regarding SamuelA’s post, I have no idea what he’s on about. Pipes can certainly burst when there isn’t a fixture on the other end. The ice itself creates a blockage with nowhere for anything else to go. I’ve had hoses, open on both ends, with just the standing water on them burst (good Craftsman rubber hoses). Water mains out in the road regularly burst in extremely cold weather. I’ve also had copper pipes in a cold area rupture in multiple spots in a single night.

@beowolf, yes, it can be fatal if you try to thaw out a line improperly. I didn’t see any mention of how the workers went about thawing the 3000psi water line, did you?

I linked the reference in my post. Try reading it. If the article is correct, your advice is worthless.

Open taps and thaw slowly with a blow drier or space heater – a good safe newer one in an appropriate grounded outlet.

We have issues with a small specific place I cannot easily correct. Any time air temps hit 10 or less we can freeze and during a more prolonged spell like this week almost certain. To prevent we put a space heater near that spot from say 12 midnight to 9am. SPACE HEATERS ARE RISKY. I keep that area clean, no kids or pets are in the house, and we have smoke detectors. Your mileage can certainly vary.

You’re right, my advice is worthless. You win.

I see nothing wrong with Joey_P’s recommendation as he is describing what to do in a pinch. If using a blowtorch, just be very cautious with it and like he said, keep it moving. This is what many old school plumbers still use on copper pipe. The safest bet is to purchase a cheap heat gun (like $12-25) dollars at either Harbor Freight or a home improvement store and use it. It will take longer than a blowtorch but is much faster than a blow dryer, and you can use it on plastics (keep some distance, keep it moving) too. After the problem resolves, put some pipe insulation over the troubled segments and make sure the area around it is insulated and let a faucet fed from the line run, not drip, but a little run. You can invest in some kind of pipe heating apparatus but usually it will not be necessary unless you live in a very cold climate. Cite: I’ve done this stuff before, lived in a few places and had problems with them.

Also, letting the faucet run DOES prevent pipes from freezing, SamuelA. In certain climates it will not, but the vast majority, it does a fine job. A chunk of frozen water in a pipe is a lower temperature than freely moving water. Even 1 degree can make a difference over time. If a segment in your house is frozen, it does not mean the supply feeding it is frozen as well.

I know it to work, because one day I did not leave it running, a pipe had frozen. I’ve been through enough Chicago winters to know this.

I’m surprised nobody has suggested wrapping the pipes in some kind of insulation. That’s what what done in our house. The easily-accessible pipes all have some kind of foam wrapped around them.

And yes, leave all your faucets on a slow drip.

My main problem spot is this small dead-air space behind a wall and in an odd gap formed by the kitchen cabinet; no way to access until some day (never) when I decide to totally rebuild/remodel the pantry.

Insulation is good and I use it in a lot of places but it isn’t the perfect preventative. Our pipes are mostly within an inch of less of sandstone or brick; what wraps or foams we can use are limited. In addition we did have a wrapped pipe freeze in our first house. The memory of stripping all that off, thawing the pipe, later replacing it all -------- well, I have insulated some of what we have now. But it is always with removal in a “situation” in mind and I plan ahead for it.

But overall its something to consider and research for any situation.

The answer here depends on what type of pipes are involved … I’ve had galvy pipes freeze up and thaw without and breakage, the steel will flex a little … copper piping not so much … cheap-ass plastic pipe is busted now … no experience with these new fancy-pants materials …

It could thaw out and no harm done … or it could thaw out and be gushing water everyplace … do you know where your water main is? …

You’re taking a big risk hoping everything is fine … I recommend against this … so start by tearing off the wall coverings where this frozen pipe runs and look for breakage, it’s kinda obvious … get the pipes thawed out and be ready to get your water main turned off in a hurry … if you have broken a water pipe, call a plumber …

Once the plumber is done, it’s time to figure out why the pipes froze in the first place and while the wall coverings are off it’s time to fix that problem permanently … pipe insulation, re-route away from the exterior walls or (perhaps) just leave the wall coverings off altogether … what ever stops the freezing in the future … there’s nothing about climate change that stops polar air from blanketing Missouri … on average, Springfield will see -10ºF about once every ten years …

I wouldn’t hesitate using a butane torch on frozen pipes, but then again I’m proficient at soldering copper pipe together … slowly warm the pipe up by moving the torch all around …

The problem going on right now is when a deep freeze hits an area where that’s not typical. Homebuilders save pennies wherever they can. They’re not likely to spend the money and effort to wrap pipes in an area of the country which doesn’t freeze unless there’s a regulation which requires it. If a pipe-freezing event only happens every few years, it can be managed in the moment by having faucets dripping, covering outside spigots, and things like that. If you have bare pipes in the crawl space and attic, it will be a lot of work to wrap them for the one time every few years it gets cold enough to freeze them.

Of course, this means it’s real fun when a deep freeze hits when people are on vacation–like over Thanksgiving or Christmas–and they aren’t home to drip their faucets. They’ll come back home to frozen waterfalls throughout their house.

I left the faucets dripping last night and woke up to my kitchen faucet not working at all. The pipes were frozen. So I sat and aimed a hairdryer at it for about an hour and that worked.

Wrapping the pipes in towels, running a space heater, and leaving the water on a trickle mostly worked for us in our 110 year old house.

I’ve got a garden hose attached to an outdoor faucet, and have been trying for weeks to get the hose disconnected. The damn connector just won’t budge, which baffles me because I’m sure I put it on finger-tight but can’t get it off even using pliers or a vise-grip.

I wasn’t too worried because it’s been in the forties most of December, but then of course when we leave for the holidays the below-zero weather rolls in. When we got home last night I gave it one last try, still couldn’t get the hose off, so I got the tree pruner and cut through the hose just a few inches below the faucet. And yeah it’s frozen solid in the hose, but I’m hoping there’s no damage to the pipe on the other side of the faucet. I guess I’ll find out once it gets above freezing again.