No matter what precautions you take for winter, you can still end up with frozen pipes. Even if all the interior pipes are wrapped with electric heat tape, you could have a really potent cold snap that freezes the ground all the way to the level of the water main.
So short of moving to a southern climate, it is good to be prepared when you turn on the water for your morning shower and nothing happens.
These tips will help you for when that occurs.
The first thing you need to do is to find out where the pipe is frozen. Typically only a small portion of piping is frozen, not the entire system.
The easiest way to do this is to start at the point where the water comes into the house. Follow the water pipes, opening every drain valve, faucet, etc. until you get to a point where the water doesn’t run.
Once you identify the run of pipe that is the problem, run your hand along it until you find the coldest spot. This will be the area that is frozen.
Once the area is identified, follow these simple steps to take care of the problem.
- Turn on a faucet upstream of the blockage so that once it starts to thaw, the running water through the system will help it thaw faster.
- Apply gentle heat until you get full water flow. Gentle heat can be applied via a blow drier, electric blanket wrapped around the pipe and even towels tied to the area of the pipe with hot water poured on them. You do not want to use a blow torch or other high heat device. This can cause damage.
Assuming that you can’t reach the area that is frozen because it is buried in a wall or otherwise inaccessible, you can still that the system but it is a bit more work.
In this instance, you need to find the point you can reach that is closest to the frozen point that still contains water (i.e. somewhere between the water entry point and the clog.) You then want to apply continual gentle heat to warm the water in the line for a long enough period to melt the clog. This can take a long time so a blow drier is not good for this. Your best option in this case is to use heat tape for pipes. Just wrap it around the pipe as close as you can to the blockage, plug it in and wait until water starts flowing through the faucet you opened.
Once you get the water running again, you should take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Assuming the pipe didn’t freeze due to a power loss event, it generally means that you need more insulation at the offending point. Using pipe insulation is a good choice and will dramatically reduce the likelihood of it occurring again. And if the freeze point is in a hard to reach place, you might want to consider wrapping it with heat tape and leaving an access point for you to reach the plug. Then you can just plug it in and thaw it if it freezes again – or just plug it in on any especially cold time.
Problems happen – especially in winter. A smart prepper fixes the immediate problem and takes steps to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again. These simple steps and actions can save you many headaches in the long run.