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How To Thaw a Frozen Water Pipe

Save the Plumbing Before Ice Bursts the Plumbing Supply Lines

© 2008 by ; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

An Exterior Faucet; photo © Kelly Smith

An exposed residential water supply pipe and spigot.

This article was updated on 10/27/19. Happy American Veterans Day! (Remembrance Day in Canada.)

Freezing winter weather brings Thanksgiving, Christmas fun, and frozen pipes. Read on to learn how to prevent frozen water pipes with insulation and how to thaw water pipes with a hair dryer or heat gun.

Yes, winter is here or looming on the horizon, depending on the particular latitude of residence. Winter brings the family together for holiday celebrations like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. But good and bad tend to travel together.

So what nasty little winter events can be expected? Other than that horrid fruit cake that Aunt Hanna brings to the Thanksgiving dinner every year? The usually ill-timed frozen water pipe is one that pops to mind. This article will discuss how to thaw a frozen water pipe.

Prevent a Frozen Water Pipe

Benjamin Franklin nailed it squarely when he quipped, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The best time to fix a frozen water pipe is before it happens. That is, a proper plumbing inspection should be done before the arctic weather actually arrives. The October through November time frame is usually appropriate, but again, it depends on your particular latitude. This really should be an important part of the home winterizing schedule.

Do you have water pipes in the attic? In the crawl space? Get in there with a flashlight and make sure that everything is well insulated. The pipes themselves need insulation. Foam pipe insulation with a factory-cut slit is cheap, available at Home Depot, and easy to install.

Use silver duct tape to seal the slit, and at intersections and elbows. Don't use regular duct tape. It’s not really for use in the attic.

Other products for very exposed areas are UL-listed “heat tape”, and “heat cable”. The local hardware store should stock products suitable for local use.

Got a swimming pool in the back yard? If it’s not heated over the cold season, drain it, and the plumbing, if the weather is particularly severe. If you do keep it heated over the cold spell, keep a pool cover on it when it’s not in use.

When a Frozen Pipe Does Happen

Frozen water pipes will happen occasionally, even when all precautions have been taken. First, try running water through the pipe. Does it flow at all? If so, just let it keep flowing to speed the thawing process. Now is not the time to worry about your water bill or saving the planet.

The objective is to get things back to normal before the pipe expands so much that it ruptures.There are several items that will speed thawing the frozen water pipe:

  • A space heater. This is a help when using the methods below, speeding the thawing process, and keeping the person/people doing the work more comfortable.

  • A hair dryer. This is a great gadget to thaw plumbing. Don’t overheat the pipe in one spot, but keep it moving, as if spray painting.

  • A heat gun. This is preferable if one is close at hand. A heat gun is like a hair dryer on steroids. Once again, keep it moving.

  • Water-soaked towels. Soaking towels in hot water and wrapping the pipes also works well. This works best with two or three people. The objective is to keep the towels hot. You’re going to want to wear rubber gloves if you opt for this method.

  • An electric heating pad. A pad like a Sunbeam XpressHeatHeating Pad (extra large) is preferable to the towel method because it’s dry and covers more real estate. Use it in bed and get it out for wintertime plumbing emergencies.

Precautions While Thawing a Water Pipe

Do not use a blowtorch to thaw pipes. It might sound logical, but it’s too much horsepower. Likewise, don’t use any other open flame tool. Much too dangerous in any confined space.

And After the Thaw…

A Hole in a Drywall Ceiling; photo © Kelly Smith

Once the water pipe is thawed and flowing normally, check carefully for any pipe cracks that might have developed. If there are any leaks, the plumbing must be repaired as soon as possible.

Especially if the leak is in the attic, there is going to be a drywall repair job to take care of. That’s what happened in the photo above.

Now that problem spots have been identified, think of better precautions to take in the future. Install more insulation? More heat in the area? Relocate the lines? Think creatively and think outside the box.

I hope this how-to article on thawing frozen water pipes (and preventing them!) has inspired you to take the appropriate steps now! If so, I would appreciate you sharing this page with your friends. Thanks for visiting!

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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