If water fails to flow from a faucet during extremely cold weather, chances are the water in the pipe has frozen. To help you thaw frozen pipes quickly and safely, the Greater Louisville Association of Realtors® has some tips.
Before starting the thawing process, be sure to open some of the faucets in the house to prevent a pressure buildup in the frozen pipe, which can occur when heat is applied to melt the ice inside.
Once faucets have been opened, the area of pipe where the ice is lodged must be located. Look for the frozen area to be at the coldest point in the house, usually an unheated basement, an attic, or in pipes that pass along a cold wall.
"Sometimes a frozen pipe may be between the walls or above the ceiling where you can't get to it. When this happens, heat applied to the exposed area of pipe eventually will travel through the pipe and warm the area you can't reach," John May, president of the Greater Louisville Association of Realtors® says.
You can also locate the frozen section of pipe by feeling along its length for the coldest spot. In the case of copper and lead pipes, the frozen section may be detected by a slight bulge.
Frozen pipes can be thawed a number of ways. For example, heat can be applied with a heat lamp or photographic flood lamp positioned as close to the pipe as possible without allowing it to touch.
Arrange the lamp so that it will remain in place without your holding it. A badly frozen pipe may take several hours to thaw.
Heat can also be applied with a hair dryer, a clothes iron, a candle, or even a vacuum cleaner. If your vacuum cleaner is the canister type, insert the hose in the exhaust outlet and let the warm air blow onto the pipe. Towels soaked in hot water can be used to thaw frozen pipes, but this can be a much slower and messier job.
The fastest way to thaw a frozen pipe is to use a propane torch. This must be done with extreme caution, since the intense heat from the torch may cause steam to build up an explosive pressure inside the pipe.
"If you do use a torch, move it constantly back and forth along the length of the pipe and remove the flame every two minutes or so to let the pipe cool," May recommends. "This will help eliminate the possibility of steam build-up."
Frozen drain pipes can be thawed easily by running hot water into the drain. If this fails to work after several minutes, mix a solution of chemical drain cleaner in cold water and pour it into the drain. The chemical reaction between the drain cleaner and the water generates heat that is usually sufficient to melt the ice. If you use this method, be sure to protect your hands and avoid splashing the mixture on counter surfaces and clothing.
A properly installed plumbing system is your best defense against frozen pipes. You may also choose to insulate your pipes. Insulation keeps cold water from freezing in winter and sweating in summer, and will reduce heat losses from hot water pipes as well.
Insulation comes in a number of forms. Consult with your local hardware or plumbing specialist for advice regarding which products are most effective and easy to use.
Preventative maintenance is the best and most inexpensive way to keep your pipes from freezing.
The Greater Louisville Association of Realtors® is one of more than 1,800 local boards and associations of Realtors® nationwide that comprise the National Association of Realtors®.