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What to do if pipes freeze

| Michael Quinn

Frozen pipes can cause several problems in your water systems. To help you avoid expensive water main repairs during the colder months, we have several professional tips below, letting you know what to do if your water pipes freeze.

Locate the frozen pipe.

The first step is to locate the frozen pipe. You can do this by turning the faucets on in your home and checking which taps have water coming out of them and which do not. If there are taps in your home that do not have water coming out of them or have only a slight trickle, then it may be that a pipe leading to the faucet is frozen.

This is an image of a frozen outside tap
This image shows an outside tap that has frozen.

Exposed pipes are likely to be frozen.

If there are any exposed pipes around your property, for example, the water pipe leading into your kitchen or bathroom (the lagging may be old and damaged) or even in the loft, if you have poor insulation, you may be able to see the frozen part of the pipe. You’ll be able to tell if the pipe is frozen as it may be cracked, dripping or have a slight bulge in it. If the frozen pipes in your home are easily accessible, you have more options available to you to easily thaw the pipe, rather than if the frozen portion of the pipe was enclosed behind a wall.

How to thaw exposed pipes.

Thawing a frozen water pipe quickly is important to resume normal function and prevent any serious problems. So, as soon as you notice your pipes have frozen, tackle the problem there and then. However, be aware that it is essential to thaw the frozen pipe correctly to avoid serious problems.

Turn on the taps.

During the colder months, if the water in your pipes freezes, it will expand, which can put your pipes at serious risk of bursting. To start the frozen pipe thawing process, it is important to turn on your home's cold water taps. This will help relieve pressure in the system.

When thawing frozen pipes, it is important to start the thawing process near the faucet and then work your way down to the blockage. This will help ensure that any melting ice can escape through the taps, preventing pressure from building and reducing the likelihood of a burst pipe.

Below are some useful ways to thaw a frozen pipe:

  1. The heat from a hairdryer: this is one of the fastest and easiest ways to thaw a frozen pipe. Most people own a hairdryer, so the great thing about this tip is that it doesn’t require any specialist equipment. All you have to do is turn on the hairdryer and point the heat at the pipe, always beginning with the section closest to the faucet. Keep the pipe warm as you continue running the water supply, and this will help clear any frozen water and thaw the pipes properly. 
    Note: it is important with any electrical product, you should take the proper precautions when using a hairdryer and avoid contact with water when operating the device to avoid injury.
  2. Heat lamp: If you don’t have time to stand holding a hairdryer up to a frozen pipe, a heat lamp could be a better alternative. Heat lamps are a fantastic method to use for thawing out your frozen pipes. Position the heat lamp so that the heat can easily reach the frozen pipe. This will help thaw the frozen pipe so that you don’t have to.
    Note: do not leave the lamp against the pipe for too long as this may causing warping. Again, it is important to comply with the proper safety measures and stay away from water when using a heat lamp.
  3. Hot towels: another easy way to thaw out frozen pipes with objects you have around your home is using hot towels. Warm towels up in the dryer or radiator until they are hot, and then wrap these around your frozen pipes.
  4. Electrical heating tape: the final suggestion we have requires purchasing electrical heating tape. Applying electrical heating tape directly to the pipe helps distribute heat throughout the pipe easily so that you can thaw out your frozen pipes quickly. What’s more, you can purchase electrical heating tape that can be plugged in or unplugged as and when you need to use it. So, if your pipes keep freezing throughout the winter, you can turn the electrical heating tape on when you need it.
    Note: do not leave electrical tape or any heating systems on or around water pipes for too long as they may cause warping.

How to thaw frozen enclosed pipes.

If the frozen pipes in your home are located somewhere that isn't easy to reach or in an area that you can easily access, there are three options available to you:

Turn up the heating in your home: the best way to thaw anything is to turn up the heat. So, if your frozen pipes are in an enclosed area, the best thing you can do is turn up the temperature in your home. Simply turning up the thermostat may be all you need to help the frozen pipe thaw.

Infrared lamp: if you know that the frozen pipe is hidden in one of the walls in your property, one of the ways you can try to thaw it is by placing an infrared lamp in front of the wall behind where the pipe is located. The heat from the infrared lamp should penetrate the wall and help the pipe to defrost.

Cut out a wall section: If you are confident enough to do so, you can cut out a section of the wall so that you have easy access to the frozen pipe. Once you’ve gained access, you can use the methods we’ve listed above on how to thaw exposed pipes. If you are unsure of your pipe's location or do not feel comfortable cutting out a section of your wall, you should contact a professional. There’s also the added risk you may cut through the pipe itself.

What happens if my frozen pipes burst?

If the frozen pipes in your home burst, the first thing you should do is shut off the main water line in your home to prevent flooding. You can find this shut-off valve most commonly near your water meter. So, it might be a good idea to familiarise yourself with where it is just in case you’re faced with a burst pipe during the winter months. It’s also important to know whether the leak is inside or outside your property, which we cover in our article on understanding water mains.

Once you have defrosted your pipe, make sure that the affected area hasn’t comprised the integrity of the pipe and then insulate the area to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Has your pipe burst or frozen?

If you have had a pipe burst on the outside of your property, this is something our team can help with. Call our friendly office team for a fast and effective solution.

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