5 Quick Steps to Thaw Frozen Pipes in Your Home

Author: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Last Updated on

You wake up and head for the kitchen. The house is still chilly from last night’s hard freeze. You’re ready to make some coffee, but one turn of the faucet handle snaps you wide awake.

You don’t have any water, and you know why:

Some time during the night, the pipes froze.

If you wait long enough, will those frozen pipes thaw on their own? If they don’t, how careful do you have to be when you start unfreezing pipes?

No matter how many times you’ve dealt with pesky frozen pipes, it’s never easy.

We take care of burst pipe water damage repair in Chicago homes every winter, so we know what you’re dealing with. We can help.

5 Things Every Homeowner Needs to Know About Unfreezing Pipes

unfreezing water pipe

Ask a dozen Chicago homeowners how to unfreeze pipes, and you’ll get a dozen different takes on everything from tools to techniques.

It’s not all wrong, but it’s not all right either.

If you haven’t prepped the pipes for winter yet, you can still be ready for frozen plumbing headaches.

Here are five important things you need to know about unfreezing pipes.

1. How Long Does It Take for Pipes to Unfreeze?

You might be tempted to wait for the pipes to thaw out by themselves. But keep in mind:

Depending on the weather, the process can take days. Pipes typically don’t freeze until the temperature dips to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. By then, the water becomes solid in pipes and exerts pressure that can measure 40,000 PSI.

Fortunately, most DIY methods for unfreezing pipes gets the water flowing again in about half an hour. Still, that time can vary depending on how long the pipes have been frozen and where they’re located.

2. How to Tell Where Pipes Are Frozen

Locate frozen pipes by identifying what doesn’t work.

Whether it’s a kitchen faucet that doesn’t deliver water or a toilet that doesn’t refill, inspect plumbing backwards from that point.

• Look for condensation or a light coat of frost on pipes.
• Tap pipes with a small tool, and listen for a solid sound.
• Touch pipe surfaces to locate extreme cold spots.

Take a good look at pipes in the basement and plumbing in crawlspaces. Be sure to check the water main coming into the house, and don’t forget outside faucets.

3. How to Thaw a Drain Pipe

Before you start unfreezing pipes, shut off the water supply to the section of plumbing you’re working on.

These three techniques are effective for thawing out most frozen drain pipes:

• Thaw pipes with a space heater or heat lamp positioned at least 3 feet away from flammable materials.
• Use a hair dryer to direct warm air up and down frozen pipe lengths.
• Wrap frozen pipe with an electric heat cable, and keep a close eye on the process.

These thawing strategies work on any plumbing that’s easy to reach including pipes in basements and crawlspaces.

4. How to Thaw Frozen Pipes in a Wall

Locate and turn off your home’s main water valve before trying to thaw frozen pipes inside a wall.

This kind of plumbing problem is harder to fix than frozen drain pipes because your options are limited:

• Turn up the furnace, and open closets and cabinets adjacent to frozen pipes.
• Position a fan heater to blow directly into wall vents located near frozen pipes.
• Cut a hole in the wall exposing pipes, and follow the techniques outlined in Step 3.

5. When to Call in the Pros

No matter how carefully you thaw out frozen plumbing, you run the risk of pipes cracking and leaking.

Even if you’re comfortable with DIY pipe repair, be on the lookout for these signs of trouble:

• Low water pressure after pipes are thawed
• Damp ceilings, walls or floors
• Persistent noises in pipes when all faucets are off

If you notice anything that makes you uneasy or you’re just not sure about how to unfreeze pipes, call in a licensed plumber.

Sometimes, it’s best to relax and let a trained professional do the hard work.

We’re Here When You Need Us

As long as you’re careful and know when to call in the pros, you and your home’s frozen pipes will make it through another Chicago winter.

If you dealt with frozen pipes or broken water pipe repair last year, tell us how you handled the problem.

Just share your experiences through our Comments Section.

We hope our overview makes it easier to keep things thawed out around the house, but we’re always here when you need us. ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba provides expert burst pipe water damage repair for Chicago homeowners, and we take care of the suburbs too.

When you need help, call us first.