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What is a Safe Way to Thaw Frozen Pipes?

Letting a faucet slowly drip will help defrost a frozen pipe.
Exposed pipes and water fixtures can freeze in cold weather.
Do not use a blowtorch to thaw frozen pipes.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 July 2014
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There are some right ways and wrong ways to thaw frozen pipes. Wrong ways include using open flame, a blowtorch or a propane heater. Open flames present a fire hazard to the home, propane heaters may result in exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide, and using a blowtorch can cause the pipe to burst with hot boiling water steaming out. All of these methods should absolutely be avoided.

Frozen pipes are mostly common in areas that are not typically cold. Areas with very cold temperatures and lots of snow tend to have well insulated piping. More temperate areas may have pipes outdoors, that are exposed. People can prevent winter headaches by properly insulating pipes and relocating them when possible to warmer areas under a home or in a garage. This helps most people avoid the frozen pipe issue completely should an unusual cold snap occur.

The easiest way to thaw frozen pipes is to open the water sources in the house. If one pipe is frozen, this may mean several are frozen. Turning on the cold water taps, and if even a trickle comes out of the tap, can help thaw the water in the pipes. This is because water coming into the pipes will be above freezing temperature and will break down frozen water. Once the taps flowing freely, the pipes are no longer frozen. Individuals may want to allow a trickle of cold water to drip during the night to keep pipes from freezing again.

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If there is no water coming from the pipes, the homeowner must locate the area where the pipes are frozen. If this is difficult to determine, he may want to contact a plumber. Guessing and applying heat to the wrong area can result in damaged piping.

When the frozen area is located, there are several options to thaw them out. The homeowner can wrap a heating blanket around the frozen area or use a blow dryer. If it is wet as well as cold outside, the homeowner should call a plumber, since using electricity around a wet pipe can be dangerous.

The cold water taps should be on while the person thaws the frozen pipes with a heating pad or blow-dryer, and someone should watch the taps to let the person using the blow-dryer know when they are thawed. In most cases, a few minutes of applying heat will thaw the pipes and restore the water flow.

People who live in a traditionally cold area and have pipes that are exposed may have to thaw them out on a regular basis. Perhaps the best investment they can make is relocation or insulation of the pipes to prevent what may become a routine hassle. When in doubt about the safety of attempting to thaw frozen pipes, it's always best for individuals to contact a professional. They may even be able to watch the professional plumber’s method, so they can employ it in the future.

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Discuss this Article

anon329190
Post 4

Frozen pipes can be super tricky! If you do get them thawed and there are only a few leaks and you don't want to spend a bunch of cash replacing the piping you might want to try perma-wrap. Good luck!

elizabeth23
Post 3

Sometimes articles like this make it sound as though frozen pipes are wholly avoidable. However, having lived in a very old house in fairly mild climate, I have to say it is not so simple.

When your region only suffers extreme cold temperatures a few times a year, and your pipes happen to be in poor locations, moving them is not so easy; old plumbing can be a very expensive thing to replace, especially if it works the majority of the time. At the same time, trying to insulate pipes can work, though not as well. I had new neighbors once who had a burst pipe during their first winter in this neighborhood, where many houses are close to a century old. They didn't know that frozen water pipes could be a problem, even somewhere where it rarely gets much below freezing in winter. Sometimes frozen pipes just happen.

aaaCookie
Post 2

@sapphire12, that is usually the case, that people think that a simple solution is just too obvious. The idea, though, of someone using a blowtorch is very worrying to me. I hope more people might know the risks of this, and the better options, through articles like this. The idea of people potentially setting fire to their own houses by doing things like this is saddening.

sapphire12
Post 1

It seems to me that the real problem with trying to thaw a frozen water pipe is that the solution is usually easier than people expect. While I am sure that something so simple as trickling water or using a blow dryer would not work for more serious pipe freezes, it would probably work to exhaust all of the really simple solutions before getting someone else involved or trying more dramatic heating options.

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