How to Thaw Frozen Pipes Safely

Frozen pipes are not just an inconvenience; They can lead to major water damage and costly pipeline repairs. While frozen pipes can easily occur in older, draughty homes, unusually cold weather can also cause the pipes to freeze for the first time in your newer home.

Knowing how to properly thaw frozen pipes can help you avoid the damage that comes with it. Brahm Trim, plumber at The Gentlemen Pros, and Mark Snell, CEO of Polestar Plumbing, share their expert advice on how to best manage frozen pipes.

How do you know that pipes are frozen?

A shower head with hardly any water

If you suddenly have low water pressure or water stops flowing, you may have a frozen pipe.

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Several factors can cause the pipes in your home to freeze. If temperatures drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit in the areas where pipes are installed, the water in the pipes may begin to freeze. A lack of insulation or a thermostat that is set too low can also lead to frozen pipes.

According to Trim, if your pipes are frozen, you will likely find that you have no water or very little water pressure. “If you have very little pressure, leave the tap open,” recommends Trim. “If some water gets through it will help thaw the line and restore flow.”

To determine which pipes are frozen, you need to trace the pipes from the faucets that are giving you little or no water. You can search for other characters as well. Snell explains that you may be able to see ice on the outside of your pipes, but that only helps if the pipes are not hidden in a wall. Snell suggests that you can also look for signs of water leaking, which could indicate a frozen pipe has burst.

Important: Never use an open flame to thaw pipes. According to Trim, open flames are a fire hazard, and if the pipe is not made of metal, an open flame can permanently damage it. Heating a frozen pipe too quickly can increase the likelihood that it will burst, potentially resulting in water damage and requiring the pipe to be replaced.

How to thaw frozen pipes

When home remedy problems get too big, it is always best to call a plumber. But depending on where your pipes are and how frozen they are, you may be able to thaw them yourself.

Regardless of where your pipes are, it is important to thaw them gradually, as rapid heating can cause the pipes to burst. The exact steps depend on whether the pipes in the wall or ceiling are open or covered.

Thawing exposed tubes

Exposed pipes in a crawl space

Exposed pipes are the easiest to thaw.

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Your exposed pipes can often be found in your kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanity, attic, or basement. Because these areas tend to be cooler and less insulated, these pipes are often the first to freeze.

There are several tools you can use to thaw exposed pipes:

  • Hairdryer: Use a hair dryer to gradually warm up the length of the pipe. Make sure to move the hair dryer up and down the pipe so you don’t concentrate too much heat in one area, which could cause the pipe to rupture. This method takes time and effort, but it can be effective.
  • Space heater: Placing a space heater near the frozen pipe can help defrost it, but focus on gradually providing warm heat, not hot direct heat. A heater can be effective when you have a pipe in a smaller enclosed space that can be easily heated. Be sure to follow all heater safety precautions and watch the process closely.
  • Heat band: Electrically operated heating tape (sometimes called a heating cable) is designed to be wrapped around frozen pipes and then delivering continuous low heat. Heat tape can be very effective and is ideal when you have a long line of frozen pipes. It can also be used as a preventative measure for pipes at risk of frost.
  • Thermostat: Although it is a less acute solution, easily frozen pipes can benefit from an overall warmer temperature in the house. Keep the room with the pipe warmer frozen and open any cabinets or doors to allow the warm air to circulate to the pipe.

Defrosting pipes in the wall or ceiling

A close up of a Nest Smart thermostat programmed to heat to 74 degrees

Sometimes an easy solution is to keep the house warmer.

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Thawing pipes in your wall or ceiling can be a little more difficult. Trim encourages you to find out why the pipes are freezing. If the pipes are touching a frozen outside wall, or there is an opening to the outside that creates a draft, you can fix these issues to thaw the pipes.

  • Thermostat: Turning up the heat in your home can carry over to your walls and ceilings. This method can be effective, but it can take hours or days to work.
  • Space heater: If there are vents in the wall or ceiling near the frozen pipe, you may be able to place a heater with a fan near those vents. The heater can blow warm air into the room and gradually heat the pipe. Whether this works or not depends on where the pipe is frozen, where the vets are, and how big the room is.
  • Expose the pipe. In certain circumstances, you may need to cut a hole in the drywall or ceiling. With a hole made, you can direct the warm air from the heater towards the frozen pipe or try one of the methods above to thaw exposed pipes.

Quick tip: If a pipe bursts, close the main water valve to stop the water, then call a plumber. The plumber will need to replace the pipe and may be able to give you some tips to keep it from freezing in the future. Immediately clean the water to avoid water damage.

How to prevent water pipes from freezing

To prevent pipes from freezing in the future, focus on ways to keep them warm:

  • Insulate exposed pipes.
  • Keep your home at a higher temperature in winter.
  • Identify and fix areas where there are drafts.
  • Insulate your walls and ceilings.

Insider tips

If you have frozen pipes at home it can be tempting to heat them up as soon as possible, but doing so could cause the pipes to burst. Instead, use tools like a hair dryer, space heater, and even your home’s thermostat to gradually heat the pipes. If you think the job is too big for you or if your pipes are bursting, call a plumber for additional help.

Paige Cerulli

Freelance writer

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