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Handling Frozen Plumbing Pipes

Frozen plumbing pipes are a common cause of water damage and high water bills during the winter. When water freezes inside unprotected pipes, it can block the flow of water into your home and put your pipes at risk for bursting. While there are many steps you can take to protect your plumbing from freezing, it’s also important to know how to handle a frozen pipe if one does occur. Acting quickly can save your pipes from bursting or minimize the damage—and high water bills—that can result from a pipe that has already cracked or burst.

High-Risk Areas

Knowing where the high-risk areas are in or around your home can help you identify frozen pipes more quickly. Pipes are at greatest risk when they run through an unheated area of your home, such as a crawlspace, garage, unheated attic, along an exterior wall, or even under a sink that sits close to an outside wall. Furthermore, any pipes that are exposed outside your home are at the highest risk for freezing if they are not adequately insulated. If you experience a problem with your plumbing during the winter, the pipes in these high-risk areas are the ones you should check first for leaks or blockages that could be due to ice formation.

Handling a Frozen Pipe

frozen pipe cracked with bursting waterThe first step in handling a frozen pipe is identifying the frozen pipe itself. If you can see the pipe, a visible formation of frost on the outside of the line is an indication that it is likely frozen inside. Alternatively, faucets or fixtures that won’t run and toilets that don’t refill after a flush are signs that your plumbing pipes could be frozen. To handle a frozen pipe, first shut off water to the problematic line, or your whole home if you cannot isolate the affected line. This will prevent flooding after the frozen area is thawed. Never use a blowtorch or open flame to thaw a frozen pipe. Electrical heating equipment or appliances can also be dangerous with the risk of serious injury or electrical fire if a pipe were to burst. Instead, purchase thermostatically-controlled heat tape to wrap around a frozen pipe to aid with thawing, and check the pipes for cracks or other damage. If you have any concerns, don’t turn on your home’s main water supply—call your Portland plumber immediately to fix the pipe. While damage may not be visible, the line may be in a weakened state as a result of expansion when frozen. So, always “test” a thawed pipe first by slowly restoring the water supply to the area, and immediately shut the water off again if any drips or water leaks appear.

Dealing with frozen pipes can be a little difficult to do yourself, and you may want to delegate this to a plumbing expert.

Handling a Burst Pipe

A pipe that has burst as a result of freezing weather requires quick action to prevent extensive water damage. After a pipe has burst, water will continue to fill it, causing a leak that may be large or small. Turn off the water supply to the pipe or your home immediately to minimize water damage. Call your Portland plumber and begin drying the area on your own, using a mop, towels, or wet vacuum. If you have a dehumidifier, you should also run it in this area to minimize moisture in the air, which can make it harder to dry the area and promote the growth of mold and mildew. For a particularly large leak or mess, call a professional service to handle the cleanup, like Vancouver, Washington’s 1-800-WaterDamage; don’t forget to call your insurance company, as many homeowners’ policies cover burst pipes and subsequent water damage.

Have you ever dealt with a frozen or burst pipe?

  • No, and I plan to keep it that way!
  • Yes, but I was able to thaw the pipe before it burst.
  • We’ve had pipes burst in the winter before, what a nightmare!