Brace yourselves, Chicago: Jack Frost has made his presence known. We use our homes as refuge from the bitter cold, but in our efforts to stay warm, we often neglect other things we could be doing to keep our houses functioning properly in frigid temperatures. Plumbing is an area that often takes a hit, manifesting in one of the most detrimental, yet common, wintertime problems: frozen pipes.
Frozen pipes occur because they’re exposed to extreme cold. This is most common with water sprinklers, pool supply lines, outdoor hose bibs, or pipes than run along exterior walls and have little to no insulation. However, pipes in unheated indoor areas like crawl spaces, attics, garages, kitchen cabinets, and basements are also susceptible. Frozen pipes impede the flow of water to and from your home, and can also burst if filled with enough concentrated pressure. This means more money spent on repairs in, what’s safe to say, the worst season to have them done.
To help you mitigate frozen pipes, here’s a roundup of our best tips for preventing and also dealing with frozen pipes.
Preventing Frozen Pipes
First, it’s best practice to keep all water supply piping away from the outside walls. If there’s no way around it, and you have to retain them outside, they should be properly insulated. This can be done simply with antifreeze pipe jackets.
It’s also wise to insulate pipes in all other unheated areas where cold air could intrude: crawl spaces, basement, attic, and garage. Resolve any drafts from doors or windows through weatherstripping, sweeps, film, insulated curtains, or a door snake. Closing all your doors and sealing drafts will keep warm air circulating throughout your house and help keep indoor piping from freezing.
Before winter (or if you haven’t done so already), close the shut off valve inside your home that supplies water to your outside spigots. You can drain each line by opening the spigot until it stops dripping, then close it.
BUT, what if it’s too late and you’ve found frozen pipes? What’s one to do?
Unlike Jack Nicholson in The Shining, we won’t leave you out in the cold. Here are some tricks of the trade that could work if you do happen to encounter frozen pipes.
Thawing frozen pipes
You’ve probably suspected a frozen pipe if you’ve hit subzero temperatures and no water has come out of your faucet. Sometimes all it takes is a good thaw for your pipes to come back to life.
If it’s just one pipe that’s frozen, turn on the faucet to help get the water moving once it’s unfrozen. Then, locate the nearest water shut-off valve, but don’t turn it off unless you’ve found that the pipe has actually burst. In that case, call a plumber to fix the pipe.
There’s also the trusty hair dryer trick. Hair dryers are very useful for unplugging frozen pipes because they deliver enough heat to a targeted area to dry it without damage. Once you’ve located the frozen part of the pipe, run the dryer up and down the pipe to loosen the frozen water. Start from the faucet and gradually work towards the frozen section. Keep warming it until full water pressure has been restored to the faucet, then reduce the pressure to a steady drip until the cold spell has ended. Give this a try only if you can reach the frozen pipe with a hair dryer; if not, shut off your water valve immediately and call a plumber.
In the event the pipe bursts while you’re warming it (which you’ll know right away by water gushing from it), don’t panic. Unplug your hairdryer and close the nearest shut-off valve at once. Keep the faucet open, though. Contact a professional plumber to repair the burst pipe.