You’re back from a short trip and realize your home’s pipes have been frozen for more than two days. It’s a serious plumbing problem, but how do you solve it without making it worse?
We have the answer and more. For over 27 years, ServiceMaster of Lake Shore has provided burst pipe cleanup for homeowners across the Chicago area.
Read on for easy-to-follow guidelines and steps for locating, thawing and preventing frozen pipes.
- If your pipes have been frozen for more than two days, shut down your home’s water supply. Locate the frozen length using touch, sight and sound. Make sure the pipe hasn’t burst, and open indoor faucets.
- Unfreeze the pipe using a hair dryer, heat tape, space heater or heating pad. Clear out any remaining ice by running water through the line. If the frozen pipe is in a hard-to-reach area, cut a hole in the wall, and use one of the recommended methods to thaw the blockage.
- Prevent pipes from freezing by keeping them well-insulated. During a hard freeze, let faucets drip, keep the house warm, and open cabinets below sinks.
- If a frozen pipe bursts, turn off the main water supply, temporarily patch the break, and clean up as much as you can. Call a plumber, your insurance agent and a water damage restoration professional.
Before You Get Started
- Shut down your home’s main water supply, open indoor faucets, and check for any indications of a burst pipe.
- If you do find signs that a pipe has frozen and burst, call a licensed plumber right away.
- Call a water damage restoration company, like ServiceMaster of Lake Shore if you’re in the Chicago area.
- If everything looks good, go ahead with the next steps.
How to Locate the Frozen Section of Pipe
Once you’re sure that a pipe hasn’t burst, you’re ready to locate the frozen section that needs to be thawed.
Typically, the faucet that won’t run is closest to the frozen length of pipe, so trace backward from that faucet, using your senses to locate the ice.
- Sight – Look for frost or condensation on the pipe surface.
- Touch – The stretch that is frozen will feel extremely cold.
- Sound – A frozen pipe sounds solid when tapped with a small tool.
How to Unfreeze Water Pipes: A Step-by-Step Guide
There are several different ways to thaw frozen pipes. Each method works on copper pipes, steel pipes and PEX pipes. Water should start flowing from the open faucet in 30 to 45 minutes.
Important Safety Note: Never try to unfreeze a pipe with a blow torch, heat gun or open flame heater.
1. Turn Up the Thermostat
Raising the temperature inside the house can help speed up the thawing process. Turn the thermostat up several degrees higher than you normally set it during the winter. Open cabinet and closet doors adjacent to your work area.
Pro Tip: Keep warm air circulating through the house by turning on ceiling fans.
2. Let the Faucet Run
This step is important. Once the ice inside the pipe melts, the blockage gives way to water built up behind it. An open faucet minimizes the sudden release of pressure and reduces the risk of a pipe burst.
Pro Tip: If the pipe you’re working on supplies more than one faucet, keep them all open.
3. Thaw the Frozen Pipe
Thaw the pipe by applying heat with one of these techniques.
Hair Dryer – Starting at an area close to the faucet, direct warm air back and forth along the pipe length. Gradually work your way to the frozen section of the pipe.
Pro Tip: Running the hair dryer on its highest setting can cause it to overheat, so be careful.
Heat Tape – Wrap the frozen area with a heat tape strip, and then plug it in. Make sure the tape’s heat sensor is in direct contact with the pipe surface.
Pro Tip: Use a heavy-duty extension cord that can reach an outlet away from your work area.
Space Heater – This method works well under sinks. You can also use a heat lamp. Keep the cabinet doors partially closed to hold the warm air, but never leave a heater or lamp unattended.
Pro Tip: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba, restoration professional, strongly recommends, “Always be very careful by keeping heaters and lamps at least 3 feet away from flammable materials.
Heating Pad – Secure the heating pad around the pipe, keeping it close to the faucet. Gradually move the pad further down the pipe length until water begins to trickle through the faucet.
Pro Tip: If your heating pad features an automatic turn-off timer, keep an eye on it, and adjust it as needed.
Thawing Hard-To-Reach Pipes – It can be difficult to locate frozen pipes inside a wall. Signs might include stains or damp spots caused by condensation on the frozen pipes. If you can pinpoint the blockage, cut a hole in the drywall, and then use one of the above methods to unfreeze the pipe.
If you can’t access the frozen pipe, leave the thermostat turned up. This circulates warm air through wall voids. You can also use a fan and a space heater to blow warm air through wall vents adjacent to the pipes inside the wall.
Pro Tip: When you’re dealing with a frozen pipe that you can’t reach, it’s still important to leave faucets open until the blockage thaws.
4. Clear the Line
As water begins to flow, continue applying heat to the pipe. Don’t stop until you have normal water pressure through the faucet. This step ensures that all the ice is cleared out of the line.
Pro Tip: When you’re done, wait half an hour, and then check the pipe for any signs of leaks.
5. Double-Check for Burst Pipes
Now that the water is running, make one last check for signs of a pipe burst. One by one, turn on each faucet in the house. Look for clues such as water pooling around baseboards or wet spots forming on the ceiling.
Pro Tip: If you have any doubts about the situation, call a licensed plumber who can do a complete system checkup.
How to Prevent Frozen Water Pipes
When water freezes, its volume expands by 10%. When it happens inside a plumbing system, the blockage exerts tremendous pressure that can rupture a pipe.
Whether you’ll be home or away for the next hard freeze, protect your pipes with these simple strategies.
- Double-check pipe insulation, and upgrade as needed.
- Turn off the main water supply line, or let faucets drip.
- Don’t set the heater thermostat below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Keep warm air circulating by opening cabinet doors under sinks.
A Frozen Pipe Burst: What Now?
The best prevention plans can’t always keep pipes from freezing. Knowing what to do helps minimize the damage.
- Shut down your home’s water supply at the turnoff valve.
- Do what you can to temporarily fix the break.
- Contact a licensed plumber, and explain the emergency.
- Call your insurance agent, and start the water damage claims process.
- Call a professional water damage restoration company, like ServiceMaster of Lake Shore.
- Mop up the water, and document damage to interiors and belongings.
When Should I Call a Water Damage Professional?
When a pipe burst soaks interiors and belongings, it’s time to bring in water damage professionals, like ServiceMaster of Lake Shore. These are just a few of the services you can expect.
- Water damage cleanup in hard-to-access areas
- Structural restoration for walls, ceilings and floors
- Industry-certified mold cleanup, removal and remediation
- Cleaning services for contents and belongings
- Assistance filing your water damage insurance claim
Dealing With Frozen Burst Pipes in Your Chicago, IL Home or Business? We Can Help!
We understand how quickly frozen burst pipes cause structural issues and cleanup problems. If you need to make that call for professional burst pipe water damage cleanup services, ServiceMaster of Lake Shore is standing by.
Chicago is our home too, so we’re just around the corner, ready to help and ready for your call: 312-707-8597.
What causes pipes to freeze?
Plumbing that isn’t well-insulated can freeze when the temperature drops to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Pipes in basements, crawl spaces, attics and garages are especially vulnerable to a hard freeze.
How long until pipes unfreeze on their own?
It depends on how long the pipes have been frozen, where they’re located and how quickly the outside temperature warms up. It can take a few hours, several days or even weeks.
How long can pipes stay frozen before bursting?
It’s difficult to say because outside and inside temperatures can fluctuate and speed up or slow down the thawing process. Ice inside a pipe can cause a break in five to six hours or one to three days.