Help! How Do I Unfreeze My Pipes? [Solved]

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: February 20, 2024

If you have a frozen pipe in your home, you’re probably wondering what to do. 

Here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, we’ve been cleaning up burst pipe water damage in homes in the Chicago area for the past 15 years, so we know what you’re dealing with.

In this blog, we discuss how to thaw frozen pipes in various areas

How to Tell Where Pipes Are Frozen

  • 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. Check the water main coming into the house, and don’t forget outside faucets.

How to Defrost Frozen Water Pipes In Your Home

Drain Pipes

Before you start unfreezing pipes, shut off the water supply to the section of plumbing you’re working on. Make sure you also leave the faucet open: as the frozen pipe thaws, water will flow through the pipe, helping melt the remaining ice.

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 the frozen pipe with an electric heat cable or towels soaked in hot water. Alternately, wrap the pipes in a thermostatically controlled heat tape, which will melt the ice block slowly. Keep a close eye on the process.

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

Pipes in a Wall

burst water pipe in 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 the previous paragraph.

Exposed Pipes

Exposed pipes in the basement and supply lines under sinks can usually be thawed in a few hours. If you’re thawing pipes under a sink, be sure to open the faucet so that melting water can escape.

Unfreeze pipes in the basement and under sinks using the same tips outlined in the previous paragraphs.

Enclosed Pipes

Knowing what to do when your pipes freeze doesn’t always make it easy. Most home plumbing systems stretch through spaces that are hard to access.

You can’t always reach a frozen pipe by opening up a wall or working under the sink.

If you’re dealing with pipes frozen inside enclosed areas like crawl spaces, it’s best to call in restoration pros.

Pipes Outside

When you’re deciding on how to thaw a frozen outdoor faucet or exterior pipes, stay safe. Heat tape and hair dryers both get the job done, but be careful using electrical equipment outdoors when it’s wet.

If you’re not comfortable with your options, wrap the pipe or open hose bib with towels. Heat up a teakettle, and slowly pour hot water over the towel wraps.

It may take several tries, but this trick is safer than working with electricity while you’re standing in the snow.

What To Do If Your Frozen Water Pipes Burst

All burst pipes need quick repair and plumbing leak cleanup, but there are different ways to take care of different locations.

Depending on where the pipe froze, these tips can make a hard job a little easier:

Burst Kitchen Pipes Fix small leaks under sinks with fiberglass pipe tape, plumber’s putty or a hose clamp. A sleeve clamp kit works best on large pipe bursts in the kitchen.

Burst Pipes in the Bathroom – Frozen burst pipes in the bathroom are usually inside walls behind cabinets and fixtures. Turn off the water supply, and call restoration professionals who specialize in burst pipe repair.

Frozen Burst Basement Pipes – Before taking care of burst pipe repairs in the basement, turn off your home’s electricity and water supply. Don’t try to clean up basement flooding if the water is deeper than 1 inch. This is another job you may want to leave to the pros.

Burst Pipes in the Garage – If frozen copper pipes in the garage spring leaks, temporarily patch them with duct tape or electrical tape. Permanent fixes include fiberglass tape and epoxy putty.

Call a Water Damage Pro – It’s often easier and faster to bring in water damage professionals. Water damage restoration teams handle everything from frozen burst pipe repairs to water remediation and property restoration.

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

This time of year, most residents are thinking about how to deal with frozen water pipes — especially here in Chicago.

You can’t always stop it from happening, but these tips can reduce the chances of pipes freezing and bursting inside your home or business.

  1. Turn up the thermostat and keep it set at the same temperature day and night. If you leave on vacation during the winter, keep the heat set to 55 degrees at the lowest. Circulate warm air through every room to prevent frozen pipes by leaving interior doors open. 
  2. When temperatures plunge, let faucets drip to prevent hot and cold water pipes from freezing.
  3. Move warm air through the kitchen and bathrooms by running fans and directing them toward open cabinet doors.
  4. Keep cold air from seeping into walls by upgrading insulation and resealing window and door frames. Add insulation to cold areas like crawl spaces, basements, and attics.
  5. Disconnect and drain hoses and store them indoors. Open outside hose bibs to allow the water to drain fully. Once drained, keep outside valves open so any lingering water can expand without bursting the pipe. 
  6. Insulate outdoor pipes and cover faucets before the first freeze hits. Consider installing pipe sleeves or wrapping exposed pipes with heat tape or cable. 
  7. Drain the water from your swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines before the temperatures dip. Never put antifreeze in these lines.
  8. Live in an apartment in Chicago? Make sure your landlord keeps the temperature set to 68 degrees during the day and 66 degrees overnight; If they’re not doing this, you can file a report with 311, and the landlord can be fined up to $1,000 a day.
  9. Stay ahead by starting winter home maintenance in the summer. 
  10. If possible, relocate exposed pipes into insulated areas to protect them from freezing. 

When to Call in the Pros

water damage restoration company chicago

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.

Dealing With Frozen Pipes in Chicago? We Can Help

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 winter.

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

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 in Chicago provides expert burst pipe water damage repair for Chicago homeowners, and we take care of the suburbs too.

When you need help with frozen or burst pipes in Chicago or the suburbs, call us first: 773-647-1985


1. Are Frozen Pipes Dangerous?

Frozen pipes are more than an inconvenience – they can also be a serious hazard. 

As water freezes within a pipe, it puts incredible pressure on the pipe containing it. As the pressure builds, the water pipe can shatter. 

Once ruptured pipes thaw, they’ll dump as much as 8 gallons per minute into your home, which can cause thousands of dollars of damage in no time. 

In serious cases, frozen pipes can lead to basement flooding, mold, and even structural damage in your home. 

2. How Long Does It Take Pipes to Unfreeze?

Fortunately, most DIY methods for unfreezing pipes gets the water flowing again in 30-40 minutes.

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.

Still, that time can vary depending on how long the pipes have been frozen and where they’re located.

3. Will Frozen Pipes Thaw on Their Own?

The short answer is yes, but the longer they stay frozen, the more likely they are to burst. We’re often asked this question, so we include it here with our recommendation: Don’t wait for the pipes to thaw.

If you can’t get to them right away and you’re in the Chicagoland area, give us a call. We specialize in solving frozen burst pipe problems.

If you’re ready to tackle them on your own, these next steps outline everything you need to know about defrosting frozen pipes.