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In Winter Tips For Your Home on January 12, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Thawing & Preventing Frozen Pipes

I don’t care if you do have a cold heart, but if your pipes freeze there is a way to thaw them to reduce damage, that I do care about.

If one of your plumbing pipes freeze this winter, it’s important to thaw it out before the ice expands and splits the pipe. But, it’s possible that doing it, with lets say a propane torch, could actually make matters worse. First, obviously if you’re not careful you could burn your house down using a torch. On a lot lesser scale, if you are working on a section of frozen pipe not near a faucet that can be opened, thawing the pipe out too quickly can produce steam. The steam will, of course, expand, exploding the pipe. Wasn’t that what you were trying to avoid? If you can open a faucet close to where you’re thawing the pipe, you’ll have a release for the steam and you only have to worry about not burning the house down.

A few successful ways to thaw frozen pipes are: Using a hair dryer, heat lamp, or an electric space heater. But you should be concerned about using any electrical device around plumbing. Especially if it’s frozen and split, what if water shoots out? You could get electrocuted. So if you use either of those, plug them into an outlet with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). If you don’t have one, buy a portable one, and it’ll protect you from electrocution.

My least favorite recommendation is to wrap the pipes with heating tape and plug them in. You’ll find heating tape at hardware stores. It is a solution, but heat tapes should be inspected annually to make sure they are not cracked or brittle. If not installed properly, they could cause a fire and finally if they stop working, you won’t know until the pipes freeze.

If you have a kerosene heater put it in that room with the frozen pipes to slowly thaw them out. But, don’t put it too close to the wall where it could start a fire. How about just wrapping the pipes with rags and pouring boiling water on them being careful not to scald yourself. No steam is created and no chance for electrocuting yourself.

Now don’t go getting all hot under the collar, but if you don’t provide heat to that area, it will just freeze again.

Oftentimes, kitchen sinks are on an outside wall. The pipes run up and along that wall and in older houses the insulation is either non-existent or at best, inadequate.

Regardless, if it is plumbing to a kitchen sink or a bathroom, having insulation blown into the wall cavity should correct the problem or at least reduce the possibility of the pipes freezing.

If you can, have a plumber relocate the pipes from within the wall to the interior of the cabinet.

Another solution is to cut an opening in the cabinet or vanity doors and install decorative louvers to allow warm air in to keep the pipes from freezing.

If you have a crawlspace and the plumbing runs in the crawl, make sure the area is properly insulated. I would also insulate all pipes with pipe-wrap that run in a crawlspace or attic.

Finally, learn where the main water shut-off is and make sure all family members know how to turn off the water to reduce any damage.

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