Frozen Pipes - What You Should and Shouldn't Do
If you are experiencing the unfortunate dilemma of frozen or bursted water pipes - or just the prospect of your pipes freezing in your walls, crawlspace, basement or cabin, there are a few things you need to know.
Thawing Frozen Water Pipes - SAFETY
We would like to remind everyone in the position of having to thaw or fix frozen water pipes that the use of electrical equipment and open flame always carries the extreme potential for fire. OPEN FLAME, INCLUDING PROPANE TORCHES, SHOULD NEVER BE USED TO THAW FROZEN PIPES. The potential for fire is highly likely, and high flame temperatures may cause the water in the immediately heated area to boil and burst the pipe while being thawed. Dangerous. Never use BOILING WATER. Warm, NOT HOT water can be used if no other heat source is available. Extremely hot or boiling water may cause the pipe to burst.
USING ARC WELDERS FOR THAWING FROZEN WATER PIPES
Arc welders are sometimes used by utility personnel to thaw underground pipes, but should NEVER be used by someone who is untrained and inexperienced in this highly dangerous method of pipe thawing. In fact, if you are reading this article you should DEFINITELY NOT USE AN ARC WELDER TO THAW FROZEN WATER PIPES. Using 'uncertified' arc welders to thaw frozen pipes can be a contravention of local Electrical Safety Code bylaws in most municipalities, and has the potential to start electrical fires within the building or adjacent buildings, even after the pipe thaws.
Always Know Where and How To Shut Off Your Main Water Supply
A common sense aspect of frozen pipe prevention is to learn how to shut off the water supply to your house. If you don't know where this valve is, find out immediately, before it is too late. Once you find the correct valve, actually close and open it to make sure it will operate in case of a water emergency. This will help you minimize the damage by shutting the water off quickly. If you can't find your shutoff valve, you can use the valve inside your water meter pit. This pit is usually located somewhere in your yard, probably near the sidewalk or street, under an iron cover plate, but again may be covered in snow or ice.
Preventing and Avoiding Frozen Water Pipes
POWER OUTAGE: If the power goes out and you are no longer receiving a water supply, the potential for your pipes to freeze is even greater. The best thing to do is to shut off the main water supply valve (coming into your home), then to open all taps so that the remaining water in the pipes trickles out and leaves no pressure in the system.
NEW HOMES: If you have the luxury of participating and/or overseeing the building of your home, make sure the plumber does not run any plumbing supply lines in the outside walls of the home. Even if he indicates he will wrap them in insulation, do not accept this compromise. Even insulated pipes in outside walls can freeze.
EXISTING HOMES: Assuming that your home's heat system doesn't fail, it is the water pipes located in outside walls, or in floors over unheated spaces, such as garages, that are in danger. Bathrooms over a garage are a common source of trouble. If you have an attached garage, keep your garage door closed. Unheated garages can be twenty or more degrees warmer than the outside temperature, and even if you don't have water pipes over the garage, keeping it closed will keep the adjoining rooms of your home warmer, too. Get in the habit of checking that the door is closed before you retire for the evening! If you have an existing home and there are plumbing supply lines running on the outside walls that you have access to, then insulate these pipes with pipe insulation or pipe heaters, available at most hardware stores.
If you're vacationing for the holidays, never turn your heating system off, or set the thermostat below 55 degrees. Regardless of how well walls are insulated, unless there is a source of heat for the pipes, they can freeze if the temperature of the room drops low enough. Typically, frozen water pipes occur in unused rooms whose heat source has been shut off, and from vacant homes and commercial buildings whose thermostats have been turned down or off. Arrange to have someone check on your home frequently if you are away from your home for a prolonged period during the winter.
If you have a pipe that freezes every year, try installing a louvered grille or some source of air flow between the the room that frequent freezing occurs in and a heated room. This will allow some heated air to get to the pipe and keep it warm. When insulating, look for small holes to the outside that let cold air access to the pipe. Some expanding foam will do a nice job of sealing out the breeze.
How to Fix a Frozen Water Pipe
IF YOUR POWER SUPPLY IS OUT - WAIT!
FOR MANY SAFETY REASONS, WAIT UNTIL POWER IS RESTORED BEFORE BEGINNING REPAIRS ON FROZEN WATER PIPES.
Materials and Tools Needed:
intense heat source (hair dryer, micro heater, etc.), hack saw or pipe cutter, steel wool, 2 straight connectors (sleeves fit to size over damaged pipe), length of new pipe (same size as damaged pipe), soldering flux, solder, soldering gun or torch
If you have a burst frozen water pipe:
Prepping the Scene / Isolating the Damage
- Close the main water supply valve to your home and open the faucet at the end of the damaged pipe to allow all water pressure to escape.
- Examine the entire length of pipe looking for cracks, breaks, or holes, focusing on areas most susceptible to freezing pipes, e.g. crawl spaces, isolated basement rooms, garages, rooms over garages and outside walls.
Thawing Out the Damaged Frozen Pipe
- Once you have found the burst, crack, break, hole or frozen area, try using a hair dryer or similar heat source to heat up the surrounding pipe area to get the water flowing again through the pipe. Pouring warm water on the frozen area of the pipe can also work, but water supply typically will be cut off (from step above) and can be very messy and is undesirable in most indoor areas. NEVER USE HOT OR BOILING WATER - THIS MAY CAUSE PIPES TO BURST. Once the water begins to flow it is time to move on to the repairing phase.
Note: The amount of water flowing out of the faucet may be limited since the main water supply valve should be shut off.
Repairing the Damage Water Pipe
- Once the damaged area of frozen pipe has been thawed out, use a hack saw or pipe cutter (preferable) to remove the section of pipe that includes the broken or burst area.
- Measure a length of new pipe that fits the removed piece exactly (use the old piece of pipe as a guide).
- Clean the old pipe and the new pipe using steel wool or fine sandpaper (a kitchen SOS or Brillo scrubbing pad also works, remember to remove all traces of soap before soldering).
- Spread soldering flux on all open ends of pipe (4) and on the insides of the two (2) straight connectors
- Assemble the straight connectors and over the piece of pipe and connect to damaged area.
- Heat the straight connector with your torch or soldering gun
When copper pipe appears to start to 'dry' or display a greeny haze, touch solder to edge where straight connector meets pipe until solder starts to melt ('sweat' the joint). Only a small amount of solder is needed and will leach into the joint between the connector and the pipe. Make certain to perform this on all edges of the connectors - this means 4 times, once on each side of each connector.
- Once all connections have been soldered, let the pipes cool down.
- Once cooled, try to run water through the pipe to test for any leaks.
- Finally, apply some pipe insulation and/or electrical pipe-heating wire around the repaired area to prevent the problem from occurring again.
Here is a great video on how to solder copper pipes:
Video - The How To of Soldering Copper Pipes
If you are not comfortable cutting and replacing the damaged pipe, pending the size of the crack or break you might simply wrap a sufficient amount of duct tape or electrical tape around the affected area for a temporary fix. Do not expect this to stop the leak! It is merely an emergency means of water supply! A certiied plumber should be brought in as soon as possible to fix the leak permanently.