How to unfreeze pipes and prevent disaster.

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Winters in the Midwest typically come with some pretty harsh conditions; Blizzards, seemingly endless stretches of snow fall, and of course, freezing temperatures. It’s during these winter months that our homes become susceptible to a number of potential disasters, including frozen pipes. Frozen pipes in your home have a high probability of causing serious damage if left unfixed. When water freezes in a pipe, it expands and begins exerting pressure at about 2,000 pounds per square inch. Not many pipes, especially PVC pipes, can contain that type of pressure for long. It can rupture at any time and become a time bomb, unnoticed until the ice begins to thaw, at which point you’ll have a major flood on your hands.

 

Winters in the Midwest typically come with some pretty harsh conditions; Blizzards, seemingly endless stretches of snow fall, and of course, freezing temperatures. It’s during these winter months that our homes become susceptible to a number of potential disasters, including frozen pipes. Frozen pipes in your home have a high probability of causing serious damage if left unfixed. When water freezes in a pipe, it expands and begins exerting pressure at about 2,000 pounds per square inch. Not many pipes, especially PVC pipes, can contain that type of pressure for long. It can rupture at any time and become a time bomb, unnoticed until the ice begins to thaw, at which point you’ll have a major flood on your hands.

A pipe that has burst can dump hundreds of gallons of water an hour, causing extensive damages to your home. The financial impact can be in the tens of thousands, easily, and ruin anything from the floor, to the walls, to the ceiling. Action Mechanical offers 24/7 emergency service in the event of a disaster, but there are some things you can do and look out for to keep us out of your home, and pocketbook.

  1. Where pipes are most likely to freeze

There’s probably a maze of pipes running throughout your home, but there are a few locations where pipes become most susceptible to freezing:

  • Unheated crawl spaces
  • Basements
  • In an outside wall that adjoins the outdoors
  • In a cabinet under a sink
  • Near outdoor faucets used to connect garden hoses

These are the most high risk areas for frozen pipes, so keep an eye on them. It doesn’t hurt to do a visual inspection from time to time.

  1. Locating a frozen pipe

If you’re fortunate, you may be able to catch a frozen pipe before it ruptures. Generally, a frozen pipe will reveal itself at a faucet, when you notice that no water comes out, or perhaps is just trickling out slowly. This is when you want to take immediate action, before you’re dealing with a much larger problem. Here are steps for locating the pipe in question:

  • Shut off the water immediately, whether at the faucet or at your home’s main water shutoff valve.
  • Open or turn on the faucet that is fed from the frozen pipe, even if you’re not sure where the blockage is located.
  • Follow the pipe back from the faucet to see if you can notice any frost, ice, cracks, or slightly bulging areas. Be especially mindful of cold areas, such as exterior walls and crawl spaces that the pipe may run through.

After locating the potential blockage, you can begin to thaw the frozen pipe. The method of thawing will depend on the location of the pipe in question.

  1. Thawing frozen pipes inside walls

Frozen pipes behind interior walls create a real challenge for home owners, but one that must be remedied sooner rather than later. Here’s a few ways you can get the pipe thawed before it bursts. If you’re not comfortable performing these tasks, give Action Mechanical a call immediately.

  • Crank the heat up in your house, open any doors or cabinets that may be attached to wall area where the pipe is located, and wait.
  • Use an infrared lamp to heat the section of wall where the pipe is located. Keep in mind that regular heat lamps can overheat the wall and damage the materials, whereas infrared heat passes through the air without heating it, directing more energy to warm the frozen pipe.
  • Get a saw and get to work on cutting out a section of the wall. Don’t fret, you can fix it later. Once you have access to the frozen pipe, you can thaw it out the same way you would an exposed pipe, which you’ll find next.
  1. Thawing exposed pipes

Far easier than dealing with hidden pipes, outside or exposed pipes have many options when needing to be thawed. Just remember to heat the pipe beginning at the faucet, moving towards the blockage. As it melts, the water can flow out. Here’s a few ways to accomplish this:

  • Portable heater- if you have a small space heater or other type of portable heater, you’re in luck. These work especially well for thawing pipes that are under cabinets or sinks. Blast that warm air directly onto the frozen section of pipe. Do not leave portables unattended.
  • Hair dryer- easy, safe, and effective, a hair dryer can get the job done if you have the time to stand there and hold it. Pro tip: if the pipe is close to the wall, place a cookie sheet behind it to help radiate heat onto the backside of the pipe!
  • Heat lamp- An infrared or incandescent lamp will work the same as the hair dryer, and the same pro-tip applies.
  • Electric pipe heating tape- heat tape contains electrical heating elements and can be wrapped around frozen pipes. It requires being plugged into a wall outlet, and the temperature is controlled with a thermostat. This kind of tape can also be used to prevent pipes from freezing in the first place, just be mindful of it being turned on and not left unattended while away on vacation.

 

  1. Let’s avoid freezing pipes altogether

Dealing with frozen pipes and the disasters they can cause, can be avoided if you take some precautionary steps at the beginning of the winter season. There are several options, including these go-to practices:

  • Open cabinet doors occasionally to allow heated air from your home’s heating unit to reach inside where pipes are located.
  • Use electrical heat tape when the weather gets especially cold
  • Leave your faucets open just enough to allow a small amount of water to drip. This is not an ideal situation as it wastes water, but can be a life saver if you find yourself without heat during a blizzard. To help cut down on the water waste, you can place a bucket or pot under the faucet to collect the water and use it for drinking or watering plants.
  • Always detach garden hoses attached to outside hose bibs as soon as you are done with them for the year. If you are able to, turn off the water to the outside faucets and drain the exterior section of the pipe.

Frozen pipes in the winter months can create a disaster situation for your home. These steps can help reduce the possibility of your pipes freezing and bursting, or thawing out frozen pipes before they rupture. If you think you may have frozen pipes, or would like to get some preventative maintenance done before the freezing temps move in, contact Action Mechanical. Our professional service technicians are available 24/7 and are well trained to handle any situation, whether preventing disasters, or fixing them before they cause more damage.


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