One of the biggest home maintenance problems that often occurs during the colder months: frozen pipes. Not only can this dreaded plumbing problem impact your heating system and clean water supply, it can also lead to a host of other, far more costly problems if not addressed properly. That's why we asked plumbing pros to share with us how to fix frozen pipes and what inexpensive secrets there are to avoid the problem in the first place!
What causes frozen pipes?
“Pipes freeze when temperatures drop below freezing, causing the water inside to solidify,” says Allison Harrison, co-owner of Goodbee Plumbing and Drains. The most common cause of frozen pipes? “When the insulation is poor, leaving the pipes exposed to cold air from outside and indoors in unheated areas of the home.”
What are the dangers of frozen pipes?
An even bigger problem: Failure to take steps to repair a frozen pipe can result in a burst pipe, causing an average damage of $10,250! Other possible problems:
Water damage: When pipes freeze, the water inside them expands and turns into ice, which can lead to burst pipes. As the ice thaws, water leaks can occur, causing damage to walls, ceilings, floors and belongings, explains Harrison.
Loss of water supply: Frozen pipes can block water flow and cause your home's water supply to be cut off until the pipes thaw.
Expensive repairs: Repairing burst pipes and repairing water damage can be costly, especially if the problem is widespread or not addressed promptly, explains Harrison.
Interference with daily activities: Daily activities from cooking and cleaning to showering and bathing may be disrupted.
Health risks: In severe cases, frozen pipes can lead to mold growth due to water damage.
Waste of energy: Frozen pipes can also impact heating systems, as they can freeze if the pipes that supply them with water freeze, explains Harrison. “This can lead to increased energy consumption as the heating system works harder to compensate.”
What are the signs that pipes are frozen?
Since burst pipes can cause serious water damage to a home or property, you may be wondering what you should look for to determine if they are nearly frozen over. “You can tell if your pipes are starting to freeze if they make a banging or gurgling noise, which means the water is solidifying and expanding,” explains plumber Simon Seys of Plumbing Instant Fix. Another note: “Look at the pipes under your bathroom or kitchen sink – if you see condensation on the outside of the pipes, that's a sign they're getting too cold.”
You may also notice reduced water flow or no water at all from your faucets, unusual odors, or visible frost, adds Harrison. “Other indicators include bulging or cracked pipes, as this can indicate an ice blockage, but this is only the case in severe cases.”
How to Fix Frozen Pipes: 2 Easy Ways
If you're dealing with frozen pipes, don't worry! “Start by locating the frozen area, which is often identified by frost or a bulging pipe,” says Matt Kunz, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a neighboring company.
1. Turn on the tap
Your solution is actually quite simple once you find the culprit. “The best way to thaw a pipe is to let it thaw naturally,” explains Harrison. “To safely thaw a frozen pipe, open nearby faucets and run warm water to relieve pressure.”
2. Grab a hair dryer
If turning on the faucet doesn't work, you may need to help move things along. “Begin the defrosting process by applying gentle heat, such as a hairdryer, heating pad, or towels soaked in hot water,” explains Kunz. “Work from the faucet toward the frozen area.”
See how to use a hairdryer in the video below:
The only thing to avoid, according to professionals: an open flame or high-heat devices, as these can damage the pipes. Also be careful not to use excessive force to thaw the water and get it moving again, otherwise you risk puncturing the pipe.
Still no luck? Then it's time to call a professional.
Related: How to Open a Frozen Car Door: Auto Expert's Genius Tip Will Help You Get Started Quickly
How to Prevent Frozen Pipes
Dealing with frozen pipes can be quite stressful, even if they don't burst. To ensure you don't have to worry about the problem, you can take steps to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
1. Insulate the pipes. A good place to start: Insulate exposed pipes, says Harrison. This insulation is available at hardware stores for about 50 cents per foot.
If you can't find pipe insulation or want to save even more money, there's an equally useful alternative you may have right in your garage: a pool noodle! All you need to do is cut the noodle to the length of your pipe, carefully cut a slit lengthwise and slide it over the pipe. (Click through for more surprising uses for pool noodles.)
See this trick in action in the video below:
2. Let the warmth in. “When temperatures drop below freezing, it’s also a good idea to leave cabinet doors open to allow warm air to circulate around the pipes,” adds Harrison.
3. Disconnect and drain the external hoses: Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses and, if possible, shut off outdoor water supplies, says Harrison. “Store the hoses indoors in the winter.”
4. Leave a small drop. “Also, make sure you keep the faucet on to keep the water moving,” says Harrison. Running water, even if it is trickling, can help prevent pipes from freezing.
5. Seal cracks. Consider sealing any noticeable gaps or cracks in your walls or foundation to keep cold air out. This ensures that your pipes are not affected by a drop in temperature.
6. Install a smart thermostat: Consider installing a smart thermostat that can monitor indoor temperatures and alert you if they drop to levels that could lead to frozen pipes. Click through to learn more about smart thermostats and how they can also reduce your heating costs.)
For more plumbing tips, read on!
No luck cleaning a toilet with a plunger? A plumber reveals the step most people forget
Plumbers weigh in: The best way to remove odors from a kitchen drain + how to unclog a slow-draining drain
These kitchen utensils clean a bathtub drain quickly and without harsh chemicals