How to Find a Frozen Pipe: 7 Effective Steps

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: January 9, 2024

Frigid weather can put a chill on your routine, but a frozen pipe inside your home puts everything on hold. Locating the blockage isn’t easy.

If you’re trying to locate a frozen pipe to thaw it, you need to know where to start. We can help. With more than 85 years of combined experience, ServiceMaster by Zaba has taken care of homeowners dealing with burst pipe water damage.

Read on for all you need to know about finding, thawing, and preventing this wintertime headache.

Before You Get Started

  • Turn off the water supply, open faucets, and check the house for signs of a frozen pipe burst.
  • If you find any evidence of a pipe break, contact a licensed plumber immediately, and explain the emergency.
  • Follow up with a call to a company that specializes in water damage remediation, like ServiceMaster by Zaba.
  • If you’re sure a pipe hasn’t ruptured, gear up with non-slip shoes and a flashlight or headlamp.

How to Locate a Frozen Pipe

1. Start With the Faucets

When a sink faucet won’t run or only trickles, its supply line is probably frozen.

Look for condensation or bulges on the pipe. If there are several faucets in one room, check the supply line’s junction with the main water supply line.

Insider Tip: If all the faucets in the house are affected, the low pressure is likely due to a freeze in your home’s main water supply line.

2. Flush the Toilets

Frozen toilet pipes reduce the pressure necessary for proper operation. If a toilet is slow to flush or makes gurgling sounds, inspect the pipes directly under the tank.

Frost on the supply line or wet spots around the base are also signs of frozen toilet trouble.

Insider Tip: After the flush test, the tank may not refill, so be ready with a bucket for manual flushing.

3. Check Cold Areas

Even with proper insulation, pipes are more likely to freeze in areas that aren’t heated. A hard freeze can impact the temperature in your home’s basement and attic, affecting the water flow through the overall plumbing system.

Inspect the pipes by looking for frozen surfaces or swollen lengths.

Insider Tip: Restoration pro Diana Rodriguez-Zaba recommends, “If you suspect the pipes are frozen in these chilly areas, tap them with your flashlight. A solid sound indicates a frozen pipe.”

4. Check Warm Rooms

Pipes inside warm rooms can freeze too. Wet spots that spread out from the baseboards are signs of condensation from frozen pipes inside the walls.

Insider Tip: If drywall feels damp or noticeably cold, it may be due to ice blocking the pipes behind the wall.

5. Listen to the Plumbing

You can’t see the plumbing behind the walls, but you may be able to hear signs of trouble.

As ice builds up inside a pipe, it impacts overall water pressure. The fluctuations can cause banging noises inside the pipes. Unusual sounds often indicate the location of a frozen length of pipe.

Insider Tip: When a pipe bursts, the sound is loud. If the pipe has frozen in several spots, the ruptures can generate multiple banging episodes.

6. Inspect the Crawl Space

It’s not a place you want to visit on a cold day, but the frozen pipe may be located in your home’s crawl space.

There is an upside to this inspection: You should have easy access to the pipes, and that can help you quickly identify any problems. Look for frosty pipe surfaces, condensation or bulging lengths.

Insider Tip: A headlamp makes it much easier to maneuver in the tight crawl space, and it frees up your hands for testing the pipes by touching and tapping.

7. Try Outside Faucets

Just like the faucets inside, outside faucets can help you trace back to a frozen line. Turn on each one, and make sure it’s operating properly. No water flow or a slow trickle is an indication of a freeze further up the line away from the faucet.

Insider Tip: Exterior faucets can freeze during warm weather too, so keep them in good shape with regular maintenance and routine inspections.

Thawing a Frozen Pipe

thaw a frozen pipe

Once you’ve located the ice blockage, thaw the frozen pipe, and stay safe too. Work slowly, and don’t apply direct heat. Otherwise, the sharp temperature increase can shock the pipe material and cause it to burst.

  • Sweep back and forth along the frozen stretch with a hair dryer set on medium heat.
  • Wrap a heating pad around the frozen pipe, and slowly move it up and down the length.
  • Soak towels in hot water, squeeze out excess, and then drape over the frozen stretch of pipe.
  • Set up a heat lamp or space heater near the frozen pipe, but don’t leave it unattended.
  • Access pipes inside walls by cutting a hole in the drywall and trying one of the above methods.

Important Note: Never try to thaw frozen pipes with boiling water or any type of open flame.

Once the faucets are flowing, take a final look around the house. If you spot any signs of a burst pipe, make temporary repairs, call your plumber, and contact water damage restoration professionals, like ServiceMaster by Zaba.

How to Prevent Pipes From Freezing

  • Keep the thermostat set to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Open all indoor faucets so that they slowly trickle.
  • Open cabinets under sinks and other areas adjacent to exterior walls.
  • Protect outdoor faucets from freezing with bib covers.
  • Regularly inspect pipe insulation, and upgrade as needed.

Dealing With Burst Pipe Water Damage in Chicago? We Can Help!

Frigid temperatures can freeze the pipes, but cold weather doesn’t slow down the damage spilling from a broken line. If the worst happens, we’re here to help.

Our teams are standing by 24/7 with expert burst pipe water cleanup. We’re ready for water damage emergencies all year-round too, and we’re just a phone call away: 773-647-1985.

Helpful Resources

Preparing for Freezing Weather – Ready.Gov

Freeze Date Maps – National Weather Service

Frozen Pipes: What to Do – Red Cross

What causes frozen pipes?

Interior pipes tend to freeze when the temperature drops into the 20s for more than several hours. It’s most likely to affect pipes in attics, basements and crawl spaces. Poor insulation also contributes to the risk of pipes freezing.

What are the signs of frozen pipes?

When pipes freeze, faucets won’t run or only release a trickle of water. Signs include banging noises in the walls, gurgling sounds in flushed toilets, odd smells in drains and frost or bulges on exposed pipes.

Is it safe to leave a frozen pipe?

Frozen pipes will eventually thaw on their own, but they also may burst. It’s best to thaw the ice blockage and minimize the risk of bigger plumbing problems and extensive water damage.

What happens if a frozen pipe bursts?

Water from a burst pipe quickly soaks into surrounding materials. It ruins drywall and floors and can collapse ceilings. Secondary damages include structural problems and mold. This type of water damage needs to be cleaned up by restoration professionals, like ServiceMaster by Zaba.