I think my pipes are frozen...

We’re having unusually cold weather in the Pacific NW. This morning, the faucets along one side of my house quit working - hot water is fine, but no cold water. The affected faucets are all along a wall that abuts the exterior, and this is an old house, so not much insulation in the walls. Cold water is working fine at other faucets.

So it seems obvious the pipe along that side of the house must have frozen. Is there anything I can do other than wait for warmer weather? There aren’t any openings where I could blow some warm air in, without knocking a hole in the wall.

And how likely is it they will rupture? I’d rather wait a couple days instead of putting a hole in the wall, but I’ll take a hole over a flood.

If you can figure out where the frozen pipe probably is, you can aim a heater at the wall from the inside. If the temperature outside is only a little below freezing, that may well be enough.

Also, the pipes in older houses were frequently run in a basement or crawlspace rather than through the walls. If you can get under the house and put a radiant or space heater on them, that’ll do the trick (or even a heated pipe wrap).

Finally, when you know there’s a potential problem, you can turn on the tap ever so slightly to keep a bit of water running through the pipes. It wastes water, but it can prevent a nasty flood. Ditto with running a little hot water every now and then - that keeps the water in the pipes hot, and the hot water pipes usually run close enough to the cold water pipes that they can heat the airspace a little bit.

It will depend on the type of water line you have as to how likely it is to rupture. I would at least leave a cold water tap open some so if it thaws enough to trickle some water can flow and the running water can melt the ice. I’ve seen plastic lines handle freezing and thawing the best. You need to search for small leaks after this is done if you don’t have obvious damage. Small leaks can ruin everything as well. Once your pipes freeze, burst and then thaw you may have a sudden gushing flood no matter how much you wish otherwise. Putting some holes in the walls could be your cheapest least damaging fix. Anything else is gambling.

I’d call a plumber ASAP. You don’t screw around with frozen pipes (around these parts, “frozen pipes” is a terrible, terrible thing - something you never want to happen).

Water pipes elsewhere in the house are PEX, so they should have a little give in them. I’ve already been running water in the other faucets, although they are all interior so I’m not too worried about them. I’ll try some well-placed space heaters and see what happens.


What happens----often-----is that the pipe ruptured/ruptures and the ensuing tsunami is held back by the ice plug. 48 hours from now the pipes thaw enough to create your very own Very Bad Day.

I’d inspect those pipes and use a hair dryer/ heat gun to thaw the wall cavity and make sure you know where your house shut off is and it works, in case they’re ruptured.

You want to be home when you find out if the pipe ruptured.

ETA I might hold off on the plumber until I tried the hair dryer and water was flowing freely. (with the caveat about having the shut off at the ready)

To see a typical result of a frozen pipe, see below:



Not an answer to the OP but might be of interest to somebody reading this thread:

In the winter DO NOT leave an outside hose connected to a faucet serving the outside of the house even if the faucet is “weatherproof”. You can still burst the pipe servicing the faucet. If the hose is disconnected you are probably safe. If this info saves one person a problem then it is worth it.

I’ve had my pipes freeze with no problems. And been lucky. But have also had big problems.
Find your main water shut off valve. You may need it in a hurry.
Freezing pipes are something that you must address. Sooner than later.

That happened to me last year with an alleged waterproof faucet. The (whatever the indoor, low pressure and temp type is called) PVC pipe feeding it burst. Luckily it trickled first and we caught it before anything major.

Also in the NW, and I have a very similar problem with a pipe running to my downstairs toilet. I called a plumber I trust from previous work and he told me that if the pipe hasn’t burst already that my best bet is the heater approach. As it thaws, it may or may not turn into uncontrolled flooding, so he said to keep an eye on it and make sure I can get to my water turnoff quickly.

He said they’re working pretty much around the clock on broken pipes that are already flooding, so he’ll have to wait until my problem is an emergency.

What makes all of this so much more frustrating was that I lost power last night due to a house fire in the neighborhood and we went about 12 hours without any power or heat. Without that added problem, I suspect I’d have been OK.

Dammit! Thanks for the reminder - I’ve been meaning to get my hoses off for weeks now and keep forgetting.

This very thing happened to me last year. And the drain in the laundry room sink was frozen. I put a radiator-style portable heater next to the wall in the little bedroom that adjoins the laundry room, and turned it on high. It cleared the sink drain. IIRC, the cold water started running again as well.

The one time my pipes froze, it froze right where the main water comes into the crawlspace. I knew it was there because the drain cock there was frozen. I was able to defrost it with a hair dryer.

It seems there was a heat tape there but it had broken. I replaced it, and added some lose insulation around that pipe junction.

So check your heat tapes. If they’re on their own breaker or switch, make sure that stays on.

An update: I did much like Johnny L.A. said and pointed a space heater at the wall behind which the pipes run. An hour later there were a few little thunking sounds and the water started running again. I was standing ready at the main shutoff the whole time, but fortunately didn’t have to use it. Crisis averted!

Thanks to everyone for the tips.

So now, make plans for sometime in the Spring tearing off enough of that wall to put better insulation in it, so this doesn’t happen next year. Then you will have to repair the wall, and repaint. You usually have to repaint the whole room to get the color to match. So start thinking about that – what color will you use, do you want to do any other redecorating at the same time, etc. Or have your spouse/family start thinking about it. Making plans like that now will make it more likely that you will actually get it done, so you aren’t facing the same problem this time next winter.

In the future, for those who find themselves with an outside faucet that freezes into the interior pipes I recommend a rag and hot water to thaw it. It’s faster than using a hair dryer because you can effect more area.

Great idea using a heater facing a wall to heat the wall up. If you have a quartz style heater, all the better.