Frozen pipes can create a wintery nightmare. Not only do they leave your house waterless and plumbing unusable, frozen pipes may burst, causing flooding, mold and water damage.
Fixing frozen pipes, before they can rupture and cause damage, is often the quicker, cheaper option.
If you only have a partial freeze, simply running the water, even at a trickle, may be enough to prevent a full freeze and thaw any ice accumulating in the pipe.
If a pipe is fully frozen, the easiest fix is to simply expose as much of the pipe as you can. Opening kitchen cupboards or a bathroom vanity exposes the pipes to the hot air inside the house and, if the freeze isn’t too severe, the house’s normal warmth may be sufficient.
For more serious freezes, portable space heaters or use of a heat gun may provide some relief. Carefully make sure that portable space heaters have ample clearance and adequate supervision as they may pose a fire hazard. If you choose to use a heat gun or, even a simple hair dryer, be careful not overheat pipes or damage other fixtures.
Open flame, such as a blow-torch, even on a low setting, is dangerous and not recommended. Kerosene heaters are also dangerous in enclosed spaces because they often lack proper ventilation. Carbon monoxide and other dangerous fumes can accumulate in poorly vented areas, such as a bathroom or kitchen. Opening a window to increase the airflow to these areas defeats the purpose of heating the pipes.
Specialized tools may also be used. One option is special wraps that go around the pipe and provide insulation or indirect heat to the pipe. Some manufacturers make a heated wire that, just like a drain snake, can be inserted into pipes and directly apply heat to the ice.
Pouring rock salt or boiling water into the drain is another alternative for some frozen pipes.
For deeper freezes, you may be able to remove sections of the pipe, particularly the P-trap, to gain access further into your plumbing.
Begin these procedures at the drain area because a build-up of water or steam trapped between chunks of ice may cause a pipe to burst.
Preventative measures may also be necessary. If the pipes will be unused for some time, consider draining the pipes or using weatherization or winterization services. Without water in the pipes, there will be nothing to freeze.
Relocating pipes is another, and far more costly, preventative solution, but simply keeping pipes well insulated and protected from extreme cold temperatures may prevent future freezes. When pipes are exposed to extreme colds, either because they are located in crawlspaces under the house or in another semi-exposed area, foam pipe insulation may be used to cover the pipes and prevent those pipes from freezing.
A heater coil may also be used, but the coil is only as useful as its power source. If winter weather knocks out power, a backup power source must be used to keep the coil active and prevent frozen pipes.
Frozen pipes are a winter nightmare, but a number of solutions, from low cost alternatives to expensive remodels, can be used to minimize freezing and prevent bursting.