As annoying as it is to have frozen pipes, bursting a pipe or starting a fire (the effects of thawing gone wrong) are even worse. Before you pull out the blow torch and get to work on your pipes, check out how to thaw frozen pipes safely and efficiently. And to be clear, please do not use a blow torch.

How to Locate Frozen Pipes

At Risk Pipes

  • Outdoor pipes like sprinkler lines, hose bibs, pool lines, etc. are at risk. You might not notice if these pipes are frozen because you might not be using your hose, sprinklers, or pool during the winter. But, those pipes can still burst and cause damage.
  • Pipes in remote areas of your home (attic, basement, garage) are at risk because there’s less indoor heating directed toward these areas.
  • Pipes up against an outdoor wall are closer to the cold and have higher risk.

Finding the Pipe

  • Turn on the different water sources in your home. If any are running at just a trickle, there’s a chance that a pipe is frozen.
  • Frozen pipes often come in pairs or groups. If there’s one frozen pipe, odds are it isn’t the only one.
  • Depending on the location of the pipe, you might be able to see that it’s frozen. Besides ice on the outside of the pipe, a frozen pipe can also swell. Look for expanded pipes.

Get Started

  • Turn on the hot and cold water for the faucet that uses the frozen pipe. This will lower the pressure in the pipe. Leave the faucet on while thawing the frozen pipe to keep the pipe’s pressure in a safe place.
  • Start the thawing process close to the faucet. If you start thawing in the middle of the pipe, the pressure might burst the pipe.

How to Thaw Pipes

Thaw Accessible Pipes

Here are some tried and true options for thawing when you can reach the pipe.  Whichever heat source(s) you end up using, keep applying the heat until water again is flowing out the faucet at its usual speed and strength.

  1. A blow dryer is typically the simplest option. It’s easy to direct the heat right where you want it. Remember to start close to the faucet and work your way toward the frozen area. Keep the blow dryer from falling into a puddle of water or anything else that could violate the blow dryer’s safety precautions.
  2. Space heaters are another efficient way to thaw a pipe. Make sure to follow the device’s safety protocol, particularly keeping it away from water. Try to get the heater close enough to the frozen area to be effective, but not so close that it will get wet.
  3. Heat lamps work similarly to the space heater. Again, it’s best to check on the device’s safety instructions.
  4. Hot towels are a safe way to start. Put towels into hot water and drape them around the frozen pipe. This is a slower and more cautious technique.
  5. Heat tape or heating cables are slightly fancier options. The heat tape sticks on the pipe to warm it up. Whereas, heating cables wrap around the pipe. Cables are also a great long-term solution for preventing your freezing pipes.

Thaw Hidden Pipes

Here are some tips for those out-of-reach pipes.

  1. Turn the heat on. Turning your thermostat up a few notches can do the trick when the situation isn’t too dire.
  2. If you know where a pipe is, but can’t reach it because of a wall, an infrared lamp can help. This isn’t the most full-proof plan for a few reasons. But, it’s worth a shot before moving on to more drastic measures.
  3. For the brave homeowner, you could cut out a section of your wall. This would allow you to use the techniques mentioned earlier. But, calling a plumber might be the wiser decision at this point.

When It Goes Wrong

Here’s what to do if your pipe bursts or you can’t reach your pipe.

  • If you find yourself with a burst pipe, act quickly. Start by turning off the main water line. The main line is typically found by your home’s water meter.
  • Contact a professional plumber if a pipe bursts, if the pipe isn’t accessible, or if you just feel safer in trained hands.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

It’s much simpler to learn how to prevent freezing pipes than it is to learn how to unfreeze pipes. Plus, homeowner’s insurance differs on the cost of damage caused by frozen pipes. Typically, there isn’t any damage until the pipe actually bursts. Insurance may cover the water damage from a burst pipe, but only if sufficient preventive measures were taken by the owner. Here are 10 ways to prevent frozen pipes.

  1. Keep the heat on in your home to keep pipes’ temperatures regulated. You should leave the heat on to at least 55° F if you’re leaving on winter vacation.
  2. Allow the heated air to circulate closer to pipes by leaving doors to rooms, closets, and hallways open. You can also open the cabinets beneath your kitchen and bathroom sinks.
  3. Keep your garage door closed.
  4. Keep your faucets dripping. You only need to do this in extremely low temperatures. The slight movement of the water helps keep the pressure low and the water from freezing.
  5. Take care of holes and cracks in your home to keep the temperatures from dropping.
  6. Add insulation to the remote areas of your home (attic, basement, garage).
  7. Shut off your hose bib and turn on the hose faucet to release water still inside the pipes. Leave the faucet turned to open to keep pressure from building.  
  8. Drain your pool and sprinkler lines.
  9. In general, try to avoid antifreeze unless a professional directs you to use it. It isn’t ideal for the environment, and can hurt your property and pets.
  10. As mentioned earlier, heating cables can be purchased and wound around a pipe to prevent the pipe’s temperature from dropping too low.