You wake up on a cold winter morning, head into the bathroom or kitchen, turn the faucet and … a trickle. Or, nothing at all.
You have a frozen pipe. What do you do now? Better yet, how do you avoid this messy, potentially expensive situation in the first place?
Here are some ideas to help keep the water flowing inside, even as the freeze sets in outside:
Before It Gets Cold
- Drain water supply lines to your sprinkler and swimming pool. Don't put antifreeze in the lines; spills or leaks can threaten pets, wildlife and landscaping.
- Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses before putting them in storage. Place an inexpensive foam cover over the faucet. Better yet, close the inside valves that supply water to the hose bibs. Then open the outside hose bibs to let any remaining water drain out, and leave them open.
- Insulate water pipes with pipe sleeves, heat tape or heat cable, particularly pipes that run through unheated areas of the house, such as attics, basements, crawl spaces and garages.
As Temperatures Drop
- Keep your house warm, and allow the warm air to circulate as much as possible. Seal drafts and keep interior doors open. If you’re going to be gone for an extended period, don’t turn off the heat. Keep it set to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Open cabinet doors under kitchen and bathroom sinks to allow heat to reach the pipes. Be sure to move cleaners and other chemicals out of reach of children and pets.
- Open indoor faucets, hot and cold, to allow a trickle of water. Flowing water is less likely to freeze.
When a Pipe Freezes
- The first thing to do, faced with the telltale trickle, is try to find where the pipe is frozen. Keep the faucet open, and open other faucets in the house to determine if the problem is widespread. If it is, turn off the main water supply and call a plumber.
- If it's a single pipe, and you can reach the frozen section, try using a hair dryer, heating pad or portable space heater – just never leave it running unattended. Keep the faucet open and work up and down the pipe, starting at the faucet and working backward to the frozen section. Apply heat until full water pressure returns, then reduce the flow to a trickle until the cold snap ends.
- An alternative method: Wrap the frozen section with towels soaked in hot water. Don't pour hot water directly on a frozen pipe, and don't use a propane torch or other open flame.
If these approaches don't work, or if you have a leaking or burst pipe, don't hesitate to turn off the main water supply and call in a licensed plumber. And, be sure to touch base with your insurance agent, too, preferably before a crisis. You'll want to know whether you're covered for burst pipes and the ensuing water damage.