Simple Tricks to Unthaw Frozen Pipes

Inadequately insulated homes, defective taping, malfunctioning thermostat or uncharacteristically cold weather can create frozen pipes, causing flimsier copper lines or cheap Orangeburg pipes to burst. Expected costs to replace these lines — especially during winter months — can reach five figures in commercial structures and only slightly less in homes.

There are simple tricks one can follow to quickly unthaw pipes. Note that property owners should never perform work that they are uncomfortable doing.

Locating the seized pipes

First, you should turn water off coming into the house. This shut-off is probably in your basement or in rare cases, inside the manhole cover near or in your yard. Most likely, areas where heat cannot reach will be more susceptible to freezes than pipes inside walls.

So, start looking for freezes in crawlspaces, outdoor spigots or valves, pipes near concrete or cold air return vents, and uninsulated basements. Many plumbing systems are designed to prevent freezing in outdoor pipes, so check these areas last. Feel sections of pipe to determine whether there is a drastic temperature difference, or you can simply "tap" pipes with a screwdriver or a similarly hard object to find differences in tone. If you happen to own an infrared thermometer, your detective work will be simpler.

Once you have located the frozen pipes, find the faucet attached to that line. It may be several feet away or attached directly to fixtures upstairs; open that line up slightly — not full force.

Use hair dryer, heat gun or heat tape

It is an interesting method

Metal heats up nicely. We are going to capitalize on this fact by turning on a hair dryer and running it evenly back and forth across the frozen area. You will want to extend that area about a foot on each side of the affected area to make sure water pressure is good there too. Heat guns also work nicely.

Just remember that PVC is sensitive, albeit formed by heat — it takes only 140 degrees Fahrenheit to damage this hardened plastic. Therefore, never use any heat source stronger than hair dryers or heat guns (in other words, do not point a 50,000 BTU salamander at them).

You may also wrap sections of pipe in heat tape, which many hardware stores carry. Wrap so there is an inch or two of space between each section of tape (it will look like the red part of a candy cane if done right), then plug in.

If you do not feel comfortable wrapping pipe or finagling with hair dryers all day, drop a tablespoon of salt into your drain. Salt drops the melting point of ice rather quickly.

These fixes are temporary

Here is why

Never assume "quick fixes" are permanent. Frozen pipes are often an introductory problem stemming from greater issues with plumbing systems, which must be addressed immediately — unless you like spending hours of your winter day wrapping and tapping pipes.

Professional plumbing service should be called immediately if deeper problems exist that prevent household fixes from unthawing freezes. When pipes burst, the damage can make matters much worse.

Winter months wreak havoc on pipes, especially those in poorly insulated areas. An expert plumber in Cerritos will assess and repair your issue. We can be found here: Call our emergency line at (562) 413-1928.

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